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Vital — and accurate — records for transgender people

A sample of an Illinois birth certificate. | Champaign Urbana Public Health District via Google Images

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For more than five decades, transgender people born in this state have been able to change their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity. Illinois was among the first states — if not the first — to enact a law for it.

Once viewed as a progressive law, it is now outdated. It allows people to change their birth certificates only if they have had sexual reassignment surgery.

The law should be changed to conform to the most current medical standards for gender transition. We back a bill proposed by Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago to amend the Illinois Vital Records Act and allow transgender people to change birth certificates if licensed health care professionals who provided medical care sign declarations confirming “clinically appropriate” treatment, or health professionals identify an intersex condition.


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“It brings Illinois in line with the best medical standards,” Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, told us. “We think it limits the stigma many face in trying to update all their records.”

Whereas reassignment surgery once was considered the most acceptable way to transition, it hasn’t been the case for years. “Clinically appropriate treatment” is the leading medical guideline, Johnson noted. According to the American Medical Association, medically appropriate treatment includes a combination of mental health care, social transition, hormone therapy and the option of sex reassignment surgery.

Three years ago, the AMA announced it supported the elimination of a surgery requirement in favor of new guidelines to change a birth certificate. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health has opposed the surgery requirement since 2010. The right course of treatment is a decision that should be made between a doctor and patient, the AMA said.

About a dozen states have modernized their policies in recent years.

At the federal level, folks can change the gender on their passports if their doctors provide a declaration of treatment. The Social Security Administration requires a similar declaration or the submission of a government-issued document with the new gender. The Illinois Secretary of State’s office will consider gender changes for driver’s licenses if people have paperwork from health care providers, but a court order is the best evidence, according to its website.

Harris’ bill so far has not received support from Republicans, who ought to reconsider their position. A person’s ability to work, travel and obtain health care depends on having the correct government-issued identification. Lawmakers shouldn’t stand in the way.

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