Texas moves into the 21st century when it comes to amending birth certificates

Leslie-McMurrayOne of the things that cis-people (those who have a gender identity matching their physical anatomy) seldom — if ever — think about is the little letter designating their “sex” on identity documents.

When someone “comes out” as gay or lesbian, they don’t need to find an attorney to help them navigate the legal system, pay a $295.29 filing fee and hope to find a sympathetic judge who will sign a court order to correct their identity documents.

But for transgender people, that little “M” or “F” looks like it’s in 46-point type. And for us, changing it can be a real, well, “MF.”

With a court order, a driver’s license can be corrected as far as name and gender, along with credit cards, bank info, car title, insurance, rental documents and a slew of other things that related to name change. But until the summer of 2013, Social Security wasn’t one of them.

Most people aren’t even aware that Social Security keeps track of your gender, but they do. And in 2013, policy was changed to permit a gender correction on Social Security documents.

But in Texas and several other states, correcting your gender on your birth certificate still remained an out-of-reach goal. Oh sure, they would “amend” it. But if someone asked for the “long form” or “full” birth certificate, both the original and the amended would be provided, essentially “outing” you as a transgender person to whomever made the request.

That could be devastating.

I am one of the lucky ones; I was fortunate enough to have been born in California. Officials there re-issued my original birth certificate and sealed the old, “incorrect” one.

But those born in Texas had no recourse whatsoever.

Until now.

A couple of events seemingly unrelated to birth certificates for transgender people recently occurred that were game changers for us.

The first event was the landmark Obergefell decision last June bringing marriage equality to America (even though some states in the south are still kicking and screaming about it). The second event was a lawsuit filed by a gay couple.

John Stone-Hoskins and James Stone-Hoskins married in New Mexico. James Stone-Hoskins died in January 2015. But John Stone-Hoskins was not listed on the death certificate as his husband because at the time, Texas’ ban on same-sex marriages was still in place. Instead, James Stone-Hoskins was listed as single.

John filed suit to change that, and Judge Orlando Garcia — who ruled in favor of marriage equality in a Texas lawsuit — ordered Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to amend the lawsuit. Paxton, apparently considering contempt of court charges for ignoring Obergefell small potatoes next to the handful of felony charges awaiting him, fought the order to amend Stone-Hoskins’ death certificate tooth and nail.

Paxton lost.

The change in the death certificate rules set the stage for Judge Garcia to then order the Texas Department of Vital Statistics to bring the rules regarding birth certificates in line with the 21st century.

Lo and behold, they did!

My partner, Katie Sprinkle is a Dallas attorney who has specialized in getting names and gender markers changed for the trans community. She was born in Irving and has gone along with some good-natured kidding from me as I occasionally refer to my “original, pristine birth certificate from Long Beach, Calif.,” that clearly identifies me as being born female.

Well in December, after learning of the change in policy, Katie sent in her paperwork to get her new “original pristine birth certificate from Irving, Texas” stating that she was indeed born female.

I asked her what it means to her after waiting all this time. She said, “It means I no longer have to be afraid when I look at my birth certificate. It previously had my name on it — Kathleen Louise Sprinkle — but it also said I was born male.”

She went on to say, “Doing things like getting a passport, or moving to another state where I may have to produce the ‘long form’ of my birth certificate and be ‘outed’ were always in the back of my mind. Having the proper identification in both name and gender is essential. It’s insulting for someone to think it’s a vanity issue. It’s very clearly a safety issue and having everything match brings peace of mind.”

For those who have already gone through the process to get the court order for name and gender marker changes,  here is the process for getting a new birth certificate issued in the state of Texas: DSHS.State.Tx.Us/vs/reqproc/forms.shtm.

Download the following forms:

VS 170 – Application for an Amendment to a Birth Record

VS 142.3 – Mail Application For A Certified Copy

Fill out both forms. All people born before 1990 must include both parents’ full dates of birth.

Include a certified copy of court order changing your name and/or gender marker. Include a brief note asking that your original birth certificate be sealed and a new one issued.

The fee on the forms states it will run you $37, but the fee for the new one being issued is actually $47 so send a check or money order for $47.

Then join Katie in waiting by the mailbox; it will arrive before you know it. I mean, after waiting an eternity for this to happen, what’s another few weeks?

If you have questions with regard to the process, Katie has graciously permitted me to pass along her number: Katie Sprinkle Law, 214-814-5960.

Leslie McMurray, a transgender woman, is a former radio DJ who lives and works in Dallas. Read more of her blogs at lesliemichelle44.wordpress.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 15, 2016.