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Idaho can no longer automatically bar trans people from altering birth certificates

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As Katherine Boone, 18, recovered from the surgery that changed her into a female, she and her family talked about what they all went through.

Idaho officials can no longer “automatically and categorically” reject transgender individuals’ applications to change the sex listed on their birth certificates, ruled an Idaho magistrate judge for U.S. District Court on Monday.

Federal Judge Candy Dale ruled in favor of two transgender Idaho women who claimed that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s policy of automatic rejection violated their constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

“(One plaintiff) asserts that living with a birth certificate declaring she is male is a permanent and painful reminder that Idaho does not recognize her as she is — as a woman,” court documents said.

The defendants in the lawsuit — three administrators with Health and Welfare — agreed that the automatic rejection policy was unfair, but explained they would need a court order to change that policy. Health and Welfare is required to uphold state laws with strict criteria pertaining to birth certificates and similar information.

“IDHW interprets Idaho vital statistics law to prohibit changes to the listed sex unless there was an error in recording the sex at birth. Notably, IDHW asserts that Idaho birth certificates reflect the ‘sex’ of a person at birth and do not contain a ‘gender marker’ designation,” court documents said.

Those interpretations led to the automatic rejection of applications made by transgender people to change their listed sex. But the court decided that broad definitions and changing understandings around gender and sex make that narrow interpretation unconstitutional.

“A rule providing an avenue to obtain a birth certificate with a listed sex that aligns with an individual’s gender identity promotes the health, well-being, and safety of transgender people without impacting the rights of others,” the court ruled.

Now, Health and Welfare must begin accept transgender individuals’ applications to alter their birth certificates by April 6.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean all those applications for change will be granted. According to the court, “such applications must be reviewed and considered through a constitutionally-sound approval process.”

Niki Forbing-Orr, a spokeswoman for IDHW, said the agency received the court’s decision Tuesday morning.

“We are in the process of reviewing it and determining our next steps,” Forbing-Orr said in an email.

Judge Dale also ruled that altered birth certificates will not include a record of those changes. The judge argued that provision would spare transgender individuals from having to disclose or discuss their trans identities — and potentially protect them from violence, which her decision pointed out affect transgender people at rates far higher than the cisgender population (people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth).

The court’s decision also allows some consistency for transgender individuals, many of whom have legally changed listed sex on their driver’s licenses and passports.

Prior to the ruling, Idaho was one of four states that did not allow for changes to birth certificate gender markers. According to the Transgender Law Center, most other states will change a transgender individual’s birth certificate provided a person complies with state requirements, often a doctor’s note, transition surgery or court order.

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