April 30, 2014

Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund Testifies Before City Council Committee on the Importance of Creating a New York City ID Program

Barriers to Obtaining Accurate Identification Put Transgender People at Risk for Unemployment, Harassment and Other Forms of Discrimination

New York, NY- The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund offered testimony today before the New York City Council’s Committee on Immigration about the need to create a municipal identification card system so that residents who face barriers to obtaining government-issued identification can more easily acquire it. The proposed law, which would create a New York City ID, is intended to help those who lack legal immigration status, but it would also help transgender people who often have difficulties securing accurate identification cards with gender markers that match who they are. Without proper ID, transgender people face tremendous barriers to accessing employment and public sector services.

TLDEF Staff Attorney Noah Lewis testified before the Immigration Committee on City Council Bill Int. 253, which would create a New York City identity card program. Lewis explained the unique obstacles transgender people currently face in getting identification cards that match who they are:

“While proof of surgery has largely been removed as a requirement for updating sex designations on identity documents, a letter from a medical provider is still required to update one’s New York state ID, Social Security records, U.S. Passport or USCIS immigration documents. Many transgender New Yorkers have difficulty satisfying these requirements or affording these documents,” he said. “And for individuals born in New York City or state, proof of surgery in the form of a doctor's letter and a detailed operative report are still required to correct the sex on a birth certificate. Most transgender New Yorkers have inaccurate birth certificates because eight out of ten transgender women and nine out of ten transgender men have not had the surgeries currently required to update their birth certificates.”

Lewis went on to describe the concrete harms that transgender people encounter when they do not have proper ID’s. “Due to discrimination in housing, employment and education, transgender people are disproportionally unemployed, HIV positive and homeless. Barriers to accurate identity documents further marginalize this already vulnerable population. When transgender people are forced to present incorrect ID, they are subject to harassment, discrimination, and accusations of fraud. Incorrect ID leads to employment discrimination. And transgender people with incorrect ID can be turned away from receiving vital public services, such as Food Stamps, cash assistance, and HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) benefits.”

In light of these difficulties, Lewis voiced TLDEF’s strong support for the proposed policy in City Council Bill Int 253 to make the sex designation on the NYC identity card self-designated. “An individual’s sex is best determined by that individual. While many physical factors comprise one’s sex such as chromosomes, hormone levels, secondary sex characteristics, reproductive organs, the most important factor is one’s brain sex. An individual can readily attest to whether they identify as male or female, and a medical provider is not required for this assessment.”

He went on to say that many states and jurisdictions have modernized their birth certificate policies to recognize the fact that an individual’s sex depends on more than just surgical status, and that New York City already allows New Yorkers to self-designate their sex in other contexts, such as placement in single-sex homeless shelters.

TLDEF will continue to educate council members and the public about this legislation and the importance of ensuring that transgender New Yorkers have accurate identification.

You can read Staff Attorney Noah Lewis’ full testimony here.