Women Ask Court to Order New Illinois Birth Certificates Following Sex Reassignment Surgery Abroad

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
January 27, 2009 12:00 am

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CHICAGO – Citing the need to have an accurate birth certificate for identification purposes, two women born in Illinois today asked a court to order the state to issue new birth certificates that reflect their appropriate and accurate gender following gender confirmation surgery (sometimes described as sex reassignment surgery). For more than four decades, Illinois has permitted individuals who have gender confirmation surgery to change the gender “marker” on an original birth certificate; the Department of Vital Records, however, recently started interpreting the law to provide this option only if an individual has the surgery by a United States-licensed physician. This creates an unnecessary and unfair burden for the growing number of persons who select a surgeon from Europe, South America or Asia. Both of the women in today’s lawsuit opted for their own reasons to have their gender confirmation surgery in Thailand.

“I am a woman and I have identified as a woman since early childhood,” said Victoria Kirk, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed today. “After making the difficult decision – with the advice and support of my physician and a therapist – to have surgery to conform to this identity, it was disheartening to learn that the state of Illinois would not issue a new birth certificate that recognizes me as a woman simply because I elected to have surgery overseas.”

The lawsuit filed today in Cook County Circuit Court argues that denying these women – and others who face the same discrimination – the ability to secure a new, accurate birth certificate not only creates everyday challenges that are unnecessary and dangerous, but it is antithetical to the advice of medical experts who recommend that persons who transition their gender identity ensure that all aspects of their lives reflect that gender identity.

The lawsuit notes that a birth certificate is a fundamental document for any individual, and having a birth certificate that accurately reflects one’s gender is critical. The complaint notes that “(c)hanging the name and gender on a person’s identity documents is another important aspect of sex reassignment, since those documents are crucial to that person’s ability to function successfully in the new gender.” An accurate birth certificate is important not only in those situations where an employer may require a birth certificate to start a new job, but also – especially under REAL ID proposals approved by Congress – may be necessary in the future to secure identification to drive a car, enter a federal building or board an airplane.

Illinois the only state that bars people who have gender confirmation surgery outside of the US from correcting their gender on their birth certificate.

Like Ms. Kirk, the other named plaintiff, Karissa Rothkopf, MBA, was careful in selecting a surgeon for her gender confirmation surgery. She reviewed credentials and patients’ reviews of professional surgeons in the Untied States and across the globe, and communicated with the surgeons and their staff about their techniques and recommendations for her particular surgery. Additionally, she consulted heavily with her own physician and her therapist. In the end, she decided that the Thai surgeon she selected offered the safest and best option for her.

“My surgeon was the best option – the best medical option – for me,” said Ms. Rothkopf. “My choice of surgeon should not affect my ability to get access to an accurate, current birth certificate.”

“One’s identity on a birth certificate should be accurate and complete,” said John Knight, a lawyer who works for the ACLU of Illinois and the ACLU National LGBT Project. “The new, narrow reading of the Vital Records Act does not serve any interest for the State of Illinois and does great harm to our clients and others who find themselves in the same circumstance. We hope the court will act swiftly to correct this problem.”

The plaintiffs are represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the American Civil Liberties Union National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project in New York , and pro bono counsel from the Chicago office of Jenner & Block.

A short video of the plaintiffs, photos and the complaint can be found at:

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