Watch: NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling Discusses Landmark ID Policy on MSNBC

July 9, 2014

This past weekend, National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) Executive Director Mara Keisling joined MSNBC’s Live with Craig Melvin to discuss New York City’s proposed municipal ID law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented New Yorkers. The proposed law also allows anyone applying for an ID to self-identify their gender—a landmark policy that allows transgender people to avoid outdated and burdensome medical requirements that have barred many transgender people access to accurate ID.

The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 41% of respondents live without ID that matches who they are, creating barriers to accessing bank accounts, educational loans, voting, or even securing a job. Often as a consequence of the inability to access ID, transgender New Yorkers face economic instability at high rates: 19% of transgender New Yorkers had a household income of $10,000 or less, compared to only 4% of the general population, which is almost five times the rate of poverty.

NCTE Executive Director, Mara Keisling, on MSNBC's Craig Melvin Show

NCTE Executive Director, Mara Keisling, on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin

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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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