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Transexual group sues over birth certificates

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A transgender advocacy group is suing the city in a bid to undo the requirement that people undergo genital surgery before switching their gender on birth certificates.

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund claims that the Health Department requirement is discriminatory, arbitrary, and an unwarranted burden that exposes transgender people to humiliation, harassment and discrimination.

“I would have had to have had an oopherectomy (ovary removal), hysterectomy (uterus removal) and phalloplasty (penis construction),” in order to amend his birth certificate, said plaintiff Sam Berkley, 30, of Ditmas Park. Eighty percent of transgender women and 95 percent of transgender men have not had the surgery the city requires, said Fund staff attorney Noah Lewis.

Advocates say some people cannot afford genital reassignment surgery, and others choose not to have it or cannot undergo the complex procedures for medical reasons.

“I have medical conditions that would make (surgery) unsafe – diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” said Joann Prinzivalli, 57, another plaintiff who lives in White Plains and works as a lawyer.

The Health Department, while expressing sympathy and acknowledging the matter is complex, defended the policy.

“The Health Department must be satisfied that an applicant has completely and permanently transitioned to the acquired gender prior to the issuance of a new birth certificate,” Gabriel Taussig, NYC chief of the administrative law division, said in a statement yesterday.

Most state and federal agencies require only a physician’s letter testifying that a person is living and presenting as the gender he or she purports to be, said Lewis. If a physician’s letter is good enough to get a new passport from the State Department, said Lewis, “it should be good enough for the Health Department.”

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