BOISE, Idaho — A transgender woman is suing Idaho in federal court for refusing to change the gender listed on her birth certificate.
Most states allow people to change their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity rather than the gender they were assigned at birth. Only Idaho, Kansas, Ohio and Tennessee have policies or laws prohibiting such changes.
In the lawsuit, the 28-year-old identified only with the initials F.V. says she has been living as a woman since she was 15. She lives in Hawaii now but was born in Boise, and so asked the Idaho Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics in March to change the gender listed on her birth certificate.
Idaho officials refused. In the lawsuit filed Tuesday, the woman contends that Idaho's policy serves no valid purpose, subjects her to discrimination and burdens her right to define and reflect her gender identity.
"A woman has the right to be treated as a woman, rather than a man, by her government; and the fact that she is a woman who is transgender does not change that right," her attorneys with the law firm Lambda Legal wrote in the lawsuit. The New York-based law firm focuses on civil rights issues affecting people in the LGBTQ community.
Idaho has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit; the Idaho Attorney General's office has declined to comment on the case because it is pending litigation.
States typically decide how to handle the birth certificates of those born within their borders, and policies vary across the nation.
Many states, such as Colorado and Alabama, require proof of sex reassignment surgery before the change can be made. But other states, like California, require only an affidavit stating that "clinically appropriate treatment" for gender transition has been provided to the applicant.
That's an important legal distinction, because not all transgender people have access to or the desire to undergo sex reassignment surgery or hormone treatment. Some transgender people may choose to transition socially — presenting themselves in a way that is consistent with their gender identities — without using medical procedures to masculinize or feminize their bodies.
Only a few states, like Arizona, appear to have laws stating how birth certificates can be changed in other situations that can affect a person's gender, such as being born with additional sex chromosomes.
Many states require birth certificates to show that the gender assigned at birth or a person's legal name has been changed. That can also result in "outing" or revealing transgender status against a persons will, F.V. notes in the lawsuit. She is asking a judge to order the state to allow people to change the gender listed on their birth certificates without including historical information that would reasonably disclose their transgender status.
According to the lawsuit, F.V. has already faced discrimination for possessing a birth certificate that doesn't reflect her gender identity. She was subjected to hostility at a Social Security office, according to the lawsuit.
"After seeing her birth certificate, staff at the office referred to her as a 'tranny,' a derogatory term that disclosed F.V.'s transgender status to others in the waiting area," her attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, noting that someone called F.V. another derogatory term as she was leaving the office.
Another time, before she changed the gender on her driver's license, she presented it to a cashier at a store. A man who saw the cashier's reaction then followed her and made sexual comments as she was leaving the parking lot at night, causing her to fear for her safety, she said in the lawsuit.
Idaho does allow individuals to change the gender listed for their license plates, an inconsistency that F.V.'s attorneys noted in the lawsuit.
"There is no compelling, important, or even legitimate interest in the government causing transgender individuals to involuntarily disclose their transgender status any time third parties see their birth certificate," the attorneys wrote.
Lambda Legal attorney Kara Ingelhart is working with Peter Renn on the case, as is Boise attorney Monica Cockerille.
This story has been corrected to say Lambda Legal is based in New York, not Los Angeles.