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.
This policy change is particularly significant for people reliant on Medicare who have been outed by their medical cards, sometimes resulting in harassment or worse. The gender marker on a Medicare card will not be automatically updated until new cards are issued on an annual basis, but one can request a new card as necessary. Medicare coverage itself should never be affected by gender. (If you have a problem with Medicare coverage, see our resource.)
SSA staff are being trained to be sensitive and respect privacy, as well as to use preferred names and pronouns. However, if people experience problems, NCTE and SSA are both available to help. Those who need assistance in navigating the new SSA system should consult NCTE’s new resource on the subject. SSA has also published a FAQ on the new procedure.
Callers brought up many questions and concerns, but fortunately Mara and Harper were able to answer most questions. For example, they assured one caller that SSA gender markers have no effect on the legal validity of marriages or on eligibility for spousal benefits. In addition procedures for name changes remain the same.
This is one of the final remaining hurdles to gender designation change on ID documents and records, an issue on which NCTE has worked since inception. Only the Defense Department remains as a major exception, and we will continue to work towards changing its policies as well as implementing the new SSA policy in coming months.