Transgender Md.'ers and Advocates Hopeful Birth Certificate Bill Will Align Records with 'True Identity'

By Grace Toohey

Benjamin Kennedy, 20, celebrates with his girlfriend, Angela Russo, at a Pride event in Burlington, Vermont. Kennedy is a transgender female-to-male student at the University of Vermont, and grew up in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Courtesy photo from Benjamin Kennedy.
Benjamin Kennedy, 20, celebrates with his girlfriend, Angela Russo, at a Pride event in Burlington, Vermont. Kennedy is a transgender female-to-male student at the University of Vermont, and grew up in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Courtesy photo from Benjamin Kennedy.

ANNAPOLIS (May 15, 2015)—Last summer, Mykell Hatcher-McLarin was excited at the prospect of employment with Baltimore City’s YouthWorks, a summer jobs programs for young people ages 14-21.

But his hopes fell short.

He completed their online pre-registration and brought the required paperwork to the certification appointment. But that is where the process ended, because his documents didn’t match up completely.

Hatcher-McLarin is a transgender male and he hadn’t legally changed all his documents because he wasn’t sure he would qualify and frankly, he explained, he didn’t have the money.

The Maryland General Assembly earlier this spring passed a bill, which awaits Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature, that could make the process of obtaining accurate and updated documents easier for Marylanders like Hatcher-McLarin.

Turned away

Though Hatcher-McLarin legally changed his name with the help of a pro-bono lawyer—which was a three-month process—that name change was only reflected on his Social Security card and later on his driver’s license.

His birth certificate, however, still reflected his pre-transition female name and gender, and because of that “F” he also couldn’t provide a Selective Service registration form—required of U.S. males—for the YouthWorks program. Even if he had a new birth certificate, under current law, it would indicate the gender had been amended.

“So after two hours of waiting I had to go home,” said Hatcher-McLarin, a senior at the University of Maryland. “I was so pissed off, so mad, I was like literally this is stupid. It’d be different if I had no form but I had every single documentation to prove that I was this person.”

Commonly referred to as “Myke,” Hatcher-McLarin said he knew his documents didn’t match up perfectly, but it doesn’t make him less of a human being or not a good candidate for the jobs. That summer, he ended up sitting at home, unemployed.

The Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Employment Development’s Communications Director Brice Freeman agreed that something like this could happen, because the city has to comply with federal standards.

“We’re putting people to work, we have to go through federal process for aligning documentation,” Freeman said.

Hatcher-McLarin said he likes to think these situations aren’t instances of discrimination, but it’s sometimes hard to think otherwise.

“I always want to give the benefit of the doubt, but I feel like that’s a loophole,” he said. “I think because of the misunderstanding it becomes discrimination.”

Waiting for the bill to become law

In spring 2014, then-Gov. Martin O’Malley and the General Assembly approved the Transgender Anti-Discrimination bill, which was the foundation for this year’s transgender birth certificate bill.

Filed in both the House and Senate, as HB862 and SB743, the birth certificate bill easily passed through both chambers in late March.

Many Marylanders hope for Gov. Larry Hogan's signature on the legislation, but it was not among 350 bills the Republican signed this week.

Representatives for the governor on Wednesday afternoon were not able to comment on his plans for the bill.

Under current law, transgender Marylanders must have undergone surgery to qualify for a birth certificate update, and even then their new certificate would be marked as amended, state Senator Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, explained at a committee hearing in early March. But medical professionals can determine that an individual’s sex designation has changed without that person undergoing surgery, said Lee, leading sponsor of the Senate’s bill.

This is also relevant in cases of intersex conditions, in which an individual has reproductive organs or external sexual characteristics that are both male and female.

This new law would give the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene the power to reissue a birth certificate for an individual who has changed sex or is diagnosed with an intersex condition without marking the document as “amended.”

To receive a new birth certificate, Marylanders must have a health-care practitioner’s determination that the sex has changed after some kind of treatment or the evaluation of an intersex condition. A court may also indicate that someone’s sex has changed.

“This is one further step to making transgender Marylanders’ lives less complicated,” said Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, which works to give LGBT Marylanders and their families equal protection under the law.

Six states, New York, Vermont, Rhode Island, California, Oregon and Washington, as well as Washington, D.C., already have similar laws in place, Evans said.

Without a visible amendment to a birth certificate, individuals won’t have to worry about discrimination when completing certain forms while applying for jobs, said Delegate David Moon, D-Montgomery, the leading sponsor for the House bill.

There is no accurate estimate of the number of transgender individuals in a population because this identity is highly underreported and there is no census data, Evans said. Using a 2007 study presented at the World Professional Association for Transgender Health which found about one half of 1 percent of the population takes steps toward a gender transition, this new law could affect about 29,500 Marylanders.

A National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 71 percent of the 132 surveyed transgender Marylanders faced harassment or mistreatment in the workplace because of gender identity or expression and 17 percent were denied a home or apartment.

The bill received opposition mainly from state House and Senate Republicans.

Delegate Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, said she worried about the unintended consequences of such a bill, like DNA evidence not matching a birth certificate, and because the document is no longer truly meaning a certificate issued at birth.

The bill means safety, privacy, and self-assurance

Benjamin Kennedy, 20, grew up in Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County, where many people might still remember him as a female. He began his transition to his male gender in college, where he is studying early childhood special education at the University of Vermont.

Kennedy has been on testosterone shots for two and a half years, received “top” surgery this past December, and said he has never felt better.

“I can’t even imagine continuing to feel that way,” Kennedy said, explaining how he has battled depression and anxiety for years. “I feel like everything has made a complete 180 since I made the transition.”

Nurse practitioner Jill Crank has been working with transgender patients for more than seven years, and said that going through a gender transition often improves illnesses like depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. And getting paperwork to match that transition, Crank said, can be even more beneficial.

“It completes the picture for my patients, even if they feel inside they have fully transitioned, it’s another thing to have society accept you,” said Crank, who works for Chase Brexton Health Care in Baltimore.

So the next step for Kennedy is the paperwork. He is beginning to do research on changing his name and gender legally, but is waiting until he finalizes payments for college. Changing all of his student loans and university paperwork isn’t worth it right now, Kennedy said, but that doesn't mean he isn’t waiting for that day.

“It will mean I’m finally, in every single aspect of my life, the way they were supposed to be,” Kennedy said. “I get really angry a lot of times that things just aren’t this way naturally, that I had to pay money to have the body I wanted and get a shot every week.”

When he first told his parents that he was a man almost three years ago, he said it wasn’t easy. They had a lot of questions and worried about his safety, but he said they were really supportive. Changing his documents could be his final step.

“For privacy, for safety, for just the sake of being recognized as the gender that you always were and identify with,” Kennedy said, “it’s one of the most important things that could happen.”

Kennedy said people in Vermont are much more accepting of the LGBT community than in Maryland, which is why he especially wants his documents changed for when he’s applying for jobs in different areas that require background checks.

“All over the country it’s actually legal to discriminate against trans and queer people and no reason has to be given other than they’re a trans person,” Kennedy said. He said he is constantly on high alert for who or what might “out” him.

The fight isn’t over

Hatcher-McLarin, 22, didn’t even know about the word transgender until he was a junior in high school, and didn’t really know what it meant until college. Everyone has a unique experience, he said, but his transition meant a long-awaited complete truth.

“It’s as simple as finally being who I am and living who I am rather than living the way I think I should,” he said. “For me it’s just a coming of age, coming of self, embracing the truths that I knew were always there and didn’t know how to live it completely and authentically and being unapologetic about it.”

In the same way Kennedy worries about being “outed,” Hatcher-McLarin is always worried about being misgendered, which is why he hopes to complete the rest of his paperwork as soon as he can—he expects to graduate from the University of Maryland in May with a degree in sociology and wants to be able to apply for housing and jobs without worrying about what might come out of a background check.

Changing your paperwork is not a quick and easy process though, as every agency—the Motor Vehicle Administration for a driver's license, the U.S. Department of State for a passport, the court system for a birth certificate—has a different process and policies, said attorney Milo Primeaux, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow for Whitman-Walker Health.

For a name change in Maryland, people also much publish their request in a local paper to give the opportunity for someone to contest it, Primeaux explained.

With court fees, publication fees and fees for each reissued document or identification card, the process can cost hundreds of dollars, he said, but the new Maryland law will at least make it less arbitrary.

“Gender transition is a highly individualized process, and having a medical procedure the bar for having to change your gender transition is really arduous,” Primeaux said. “The shift in Maryland to a more streamlined way is going to be huge.”

Hatcher-McLarin knows first-hand how lengthy and expensive the process is, as he is still working on changing his name and gender on his birth certificate, but he’s excited to know he won’t have to worry about anyone asking him questions about an “amended” birth certificate once he completes this.

“It’s a public health issue, we always talk about how we care about the health of our nation, care about the health of me as person who’s a part of your nation, who has a lot of anxiety about the possibility of being discriminated against,” he said.

Before this law, Primeaux said, judges almost had full power to decide the fate of an individual name and gender change on a birth certificate, so defined protocol will be life-changing.

“Having ID documents that don’t match your true identity can easily escalate into discrimination or violence, but it’s also that personal affirmation that you are who you say you are, which is something that the vast majority of people take for granted,” he said.

Hatcher-McLarin said he sees the next step to help transgender individuals coming from insurance companies and their benefits — that and continuing education and eliminating discrimination.

“If you’re going to be worried about the money of the country, let people work, let people buy housing and don't stop them because their names or their gender markers aren’t changed,” he said. “Stop taking people out of the equation because you’re literally doing yourself a disservice. The more people you try to discriminate against, the less people can actually contribute.”

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