Listen: Social Security Administration Community Call

June 28, 2013

Last week, NCTE’s Director of Policy Harper Jean Tobin and Executive Director Mara Keisling hosted a community call with some of our friends and supporters to discuss the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s recent changes. That entire conversation can be listened here.

For the past seven years NCTE has led an effort with our allies to amend the requirements for changing gender designation on social security records and last week SSA finally responded. Previously SSA required a surgeon’s letter in order to change an individual’s gender marker, but the agency will now accept any of the following: a passport or birth certificate with an amended gender designation, a court order, or a physician’s letter that states the applicant has had “appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.” This language is very important for making this change more accessible to more people. Although healthcare providers are still gatekeepers of identity, there is more flexibility now as “appropriate clinical treatment” is not defined. Surgeons can write the letter, but so can other physicians including general practitioners, endocrinologists, and any other physician who is familiar with the person’s relevant medical history. Additionally, the DEA number of the doctor is not required as it is for amending passports. Unfortunately, despite requests by advocates, driver’s licenses were not included in the list of accepted documents. Those who do not have a passport or birth certificate with the correct gender marker already can refer to our document on the passport policy for instructions.

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TSA Posts Info for Trans Travelers

March 16, 2012

Screen shot of the TSA webpage offering advice for transgender travelers.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently unveiled a webpage featuring information and advice for transgender travelers going through airport security. TSAs advice, while not comprehensive, covers a few important points:

  • Travelers should make sure that the gender provided when they book their flight matches the gender designation on the government-issued ID they bring to the airport. TSA Travel Document Checkers will check to ensure that information on your ID matches your boarding pass, however it does not matter whether your current gender presentation matches the gender marker on your ID or your presentation in your ID photo, and TSA officers should not comment on this.
  • In the event that a pat-down is required, it will only be conducted by an officer of the same gender as the traveler, based on the traveler’s gender presentation. This means that transgender women should be searched by female officers, and transgender men should be searched by male officers.
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Veterans Administration Makes Important Clarification on Records Policy

March 2, 2012


Building on the June 2011 Directive on the treatment of transgender veterans, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has announced a clarification to its records policy that will make significant difference in the lives of trans veterans. Since the Directive has gone into effect, we have received positive reports from trans veterans about receiving more respectful health care. However, one area that the Directive left somewhat unclear was the documentation that was required for veterans to change the gender marker on their health records.

The Directive was very clear that medical records will now reflect an individual’s self-identified gender.  However, the policy also indicated that the individual must provide official documentation as per Veterans Health Administration policies in order to change the gender marker. This was initially interpreted incorrectly by some staff and facilities to require proof of sex reassignment surgery.

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Australia’s Highest Court Rules Trans People Don’t Need Surgery for Documents

October 6, 2011

Australia’s highest court ruled today that transgender people can legally change their gender without undergoing surgery, at least in some Australian states.  The case was brought by two transgender men, both of whom have had undergone hormone therapy and top surgery.  Western Australia’s Gender Reassignment Board refused to issue them recognition certificates, which would allow them to obtain new birth certificates and change their gender marker in other government records, because both still had typically female reproductive organs.

Legislation in the state of Western Australia permits legal gender change where, among other requirements, an individual “has adopted the lifestyle and has the gender characteristics of a person of the gender to which the person has been reassigned.”  The High Court interpreted “gender characteristics” broadly to include a person’s appearance and behavior.  Legal recognition of the gender in which a person lives in society, the Court said, did not require “detailed knowledge of their bodily state,” or that a person take “all possible steps . . . to become as male or female as possible.”  The Court emphasized the purpose of the legislation, which was to “alleviate that suffering and the discrimination which [transgender] persons may face by providing legal recognition of the person’s perception of their gender.” While the state’s law did require some form of transition-related medical treatment, the Court concluded that such treatment did not have to be surgical and could include hormone therapy.

NCTE applauds the High Court’s decision and hopes it will pave the way for improvements to other Australian states’ policies, some of which still require surgery for legal recognition of gender reassignment.

In the United States, requirements for gender marker change vary depending on the document and the state or government agency that issues it.  NCTE continues its work to improve requirements across U.S. federal agencies for gender markers changes on federal documents.

Read the full court ruling here.

Policy Brief: Birth Certificate Gender Markers

June 22, 2011

A birth certificate is an important document used to prove one’s identity and citizenship. For those who can afford one, a passport can serve the same purposes. However, the ability to change one’s sex designation on birth certificates remains an important issue for many transgender people. As lawyers at Lambda Legal point out, states have varying procedures for updating these documents, and a few actually prohibit changing the gender marker on birth certificates.

Many states model their policies for amending birth certificates on the Model Vital Statistics Act and Regulations (or Model Law). Currently being revised, the Model Law is developed by consultation between the state and federal governments and was last updated in 1992. The Model Law is intended to be a guide for states, so that states can model their own vital statistics laws and regulations after its suggestions.

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Policy Brief: Three Social Security Policies Worth Changing

June 21, 2011

NCTE advocates with many federal agencies on many issues. Often the policies we work for are obscure, small-seeming tweaks that most transgender people haven’t thought much about. They are important, but generally thought of or understood less. In other cases, the policies we want are very familiar and desperately important to many transgender people. One example is our advocacy with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Most transgender people know that SSA has a troublesome and outdated policy for changing gender markers on Social Security Accounts. And many folks are aware of the so-called “no-match letters” that many of us have received at work, effectively outing us as transgender when we have an inaccurate gender marker on our Social Security (SS) account. But transgender SSA policy work actually has a third component:  SSA’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS) guidance that treats all marriages involving transgender people as “questionable” or suspect, without providing clear guidance, resulting in inaccurate and wasteful scrutiny of beneficiaries’ medical status. Clearly, we want to fix all three areas.

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NCTE @ National LGBT Bar Association

September 2, 2010
NCTE's Intern Elliot Kenney and Health Policy Counsel Mul Kim

NCTE's Intern Elliot Kenney and Health Policy Counsel Mul Kim

NCTE’s policy attorneys returned this week from a stimulating experience at the National LGBT Bar Association Annual Conference in Miami Beach, FL. The conference, also known as Lavender Law, is an opportunity for LGBT attorneys, students and advocates to connect and explore important practice and policy issues.

NCTE Health Policy Counsel Mul Kim and I were pleased to participate in this year’s expanded Transgender Law Institute, where we co-facilitated discussions of trans health care (with attorneys from Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center and private attorney Ed Reeves) and identity documentation issues (together with attorneys Spencer Bergstedt  and Zack Paakonen).

I was privileged to sit for the second year running on a panel on mentoring and professional development for transgender attorneys, along with leading attorneys and advocates Phyllis Frye, Kylar Broadus, Spencer Bergstedt, Jamison Green and Dru Levasseur. As the youngest person on the panel, I was greatly impressed by what my colleagues had to say about their professional experiences and it was immensely interesting.

In the center, NCTE's Policy Counsel, Harper Jean Tobin and Lisa Mottet, director of the Task Force's Transgender Civil Rights Project; with them are Task Force law fellow Ashlan and her partner

In the center, NCTE's Policy Counsel, Harper Jean Tobin and Lisa Mottet, director of the Task Force's Transgender Civil Rights Project; with them are Task Force law fellow Ashlan and her partner

Moving Forward on Accurate Identification

August 30, 2010

The new passport policy announced by the State Department in June will make a difference in the lives of many transgender people around the country. The new policy should allow many transgender people who previously were unable to do so to obtain identification that accurately reflects who they are, and makes it less likely that they will encounter discrimination, harassment or other difficulties when traveling or conducting other business. Over the summer, we have received a large number of messages from people who are relieved that at long last they can obtain a US passport and will not be afraid to travel abroad. NCTE will be monitoring the implementation of this policy and working with State Department and our partners in the Council for Global Equality to ensure it is working effectively for everyone.

This step forward builds on tremendous progress at the state level in recent years. To pick just two examples, in recent months Ohio and Nevada have taken important steps to improve and simplify their policies for changing gender on driver’s licenses. This month, New Mexico and Pennsylvania did the same. Half of all states now have driver’s license rules at least as strong as the new passport policy. This progress happened because of the efforts of state and local advocates, along with medical experts, to educate state officials and develop workable policies. The new passport policy should go a long way in demonstrating to other state and federal agencies the practicality and advisability of providing identification documents that reflect the reality of transgender people’s lives.

But while we have just seen a major breakthrough, it will not cure transgender people’s documentation problems overnight. There are still many federal and state policies – most of which were written many years ago without the benefit of any knowledge about transgender people – that create serious difficulties for our community, and which we will have to continue working to correct. At the federal level, our goals will include, over the course of 2010-2011:

  • Monitoring the implementation of the State Department’s new policy and seeking improvements if needed
  • Working with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Agencies to develop a model driver’s license gender change policy
  • Working with the Social Security Administration to develop appropriate policies regarding gender data in SSA account records
  • Working with US Citizenship and Immigration Services to ensure that immigration documents appropriately reflect and individual’s gender
  • Working with the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to address several issues related to veterans’ records
  • Continuing to monitor the implementation of the REAL ID Act (which, fortunately, is currently stalled) and any proposed legislation to amend or repeal REAL ID
  • Working with the National Center for Health Statistics to improve the Model Vital Statistics Act

NCTE will also continue to support and assist the diligent work of state and local advocates on state ID policies.

Nearly half of all states now have a driver’s license policy at least as strong as the new passport policy.


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