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Hawaii Eases Process to Switch Gender on Birth Certificates

by Cathy Bussewitz
Tuesday Jul 14, 2015

HONOLULU -- Gov. David Ige signed a bill Monday that will allow transgender men and women in Hawaii to more easily change the gender on their birth certificate.

The new law eliminates the requirement that someone must undergo gender reassignment surgery before officially making the switch.

"I know that this has been a tough issue," Ige said. "As all of you know, the birth certificate is one of those foundation documents."

Many in the transgender community can't afford or don't want to undergo costly surgeries. But having a birth certificate that reflects their gender expression is critical for school transcripts, job applications, health insurance and many other aspects of life, advocates said.

"With this new law, it's life-changing," said Tia Thompson, 30, of Honolulu, who was denied a birth certificate that reflects her female gender identity. "Words cannot express what's going on."

Thompson delayed applying for college because she wanted to apply as a woman, and she needs her birth certificate to indicate she's female, she said. Her goal is to play volleyball on a women's team.

"This is going to have a great impact on the university," said Camaron Miyamoto, coordinator at the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Student Services Office at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He has said one student who transitioned from male to female was denied financial aid because she had not signed up for Selective Service, which is a requirement for men when they turn 18.

"There's a lot of students that ask, `Why do they need to know?'" Miyamoto said.

But a birth certificate is a historical record, and allowing people to change it could affect couples contemplating a marriage or officiants performing the ceremony, opponents said. More than a dozen lawmakers voted against the bill, and some feared the state could end up issuing false documents that could help criminals skirt the law.

At least six other states have made similar changes to their birth certificate laws. Hawaii's law went into effect immediately.

"This is going to open doors to a lot of transgender rights," Thompson said. "We still have a long way to go, it's not over. This is one step."

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