Identification Documents & Transgender Legal Rights
Each agency that issues identity documents, such as a driver's license, Social Security card, or a passport, has different requirements for changing a name or gender marker to match a transgender person's gender identity. Separate processes are employed to update each one.
In many states, it is a good idea to start by petitioning the court for a name change and gender change. Depending on state requirements, you may need to petition the court in your county of residence, and publish the name change part of your petition in the local newspaper as notice.
Avoid Common Law Name Changes
Although some states permit a common law name change, transgender people should take advantage of more concrete legal procedures when possible because many institutions (such as some banks) will not recognize the common law name change.
However, you should be aware that the process of changing one's identification documents is ever-evolving. California, for example, allows transgender individuals to amend their original birth certificate by submitting a form and doctor's letter directly to the state’s Department of Health after obtaining a court-ordered name and gender change, and they need not publish notice of their name change in a local newspaper.
If you are under 18 and are not emancipated, you will need your parents to petition the court or apply for changes to your name and gender for you. Once you obtain a court order, you should change your Social Security records and then update your driver's license and other identification.
Changing or Amending a Birth Certificate
Obtaining a judgment in most states can allow you to change your birth certificate. Birth certificates can be the hardest identification documents to change because they are vital records. In most states, you will need to start by getting a court order to amend or change the certificate by petitioning the judge for an order stating your gender identity. You may even need a letter from a surgeon certifying your sex reassignment surgery. In certain states, the surgical requirement has been removed, in keeping with the fact that other treatments may be medically indicated as more appropriate.
Bars Against Gender Correction
The only state to prohibit the correction of gender on transgender individuals' birth certificates by statute is Tennessee, although some other states also prohibit these corrections through case law or agency policy.
Some transgender individuals only want to change their names. This can lead to invasive questioning by courts. In some states, however, judicial requirements regarding medical need in connection with name change requests have been struck down.
Some agencies do require proof of sex reassignment surgery, but thinking has shifted over time and because the burdensome nature of this requirement is now better recognized, it may have already been removed in some instances. For example, in 2010, the United States State Department stopped asking for proof of sex reassignment surgery when issuing passports and birth certificates to transgender people. Instead, they now ask for proof that an individual has received appropriate clinical treatment to transition to a new gender. This shift was followed by a change in requirements at the Office of Personnel Management, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Veterans Health Administration.
Each state also follows its own rules related to changing gender markers on identification documents. In some states, the Department of Motor Vehicles has removed the requirement that those who want to change their driver's licenses must present proof of sex reassignment surgery. Some Departments require a health or service professional to provide legal or medical approval by completing a form, while others require a letter.
Social Security Agency Issues
You should be aware that the Social Security Agency uses a computer system that discloses transgender status to employers that are doing background checks on job applicants or current employees. This process is no longer used for private employers, but where your gender in the Social Security database doesn't match the gender identity you noted in your job application for a public employer, a notification letter is sent to your employer.