Hawaii eases gender change

LIHUE — Bianka Tasaka of Hanalei said changing the gender on her birth certificate to reflect her female identity has not been possible since she has not undergone gender reassignment surgery.

“I am a transgender female and I have been living this way for 18 to 20 years of my life,” said Tasaka, a prevention specialist at Malama Pono.

She won’t have to any longer.

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.

“I think it will be a great thing for us people that don’t have the funds and the ability to have that choice to go under surgery to fulfill the transgender perception of themselves as a woman or a man,” said the 37-year-old Tasaka. “This gives us the validation of who we are to people that definitely still have some questioning of us being a different gender due to some people knowing our gender in the past.”

Tasaka said she hopes the law coupled with the increased exposure transgender issues have been getting in the news media recently will help dispel misconception and educate people on what living transgender is really like.

“I think this will validate what I put out into the world and what I’m accepted as,” she said. “This also gives transgender women and men the option to not have to feel that we have to have surgery. It gives us the ability to feel that you don’t have to conform your body into being more female, you can just be yourself in your body.”

Matthew Houck, LGBTQ services specialist at the YWCA of Kauai, called the news fantastic.

“A lot of transgender people face a lot of hardships on a daily basis when it comes to equal employment, housing, discrimination when they are out in public, and they are constantly being told by the government how they can and can’t live. So this is just one small step toward validating people and how they self-identify. Just being addressed appropriately with the correct gender pronoun — that’s huge.”

Houck, who is also a member of the Kauai community group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said the issue has been watched closely by LGBTQ folks and allies on the island.

“It’s really exiting to be part of the change in progress towards civil justice for everyone,” he said.

Camaron Miyamoto is the 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.

“This is going to have a great impact on the university,” Miyamoto said. “There’s a lot of students that ask, ‘Why do they need to know?’”

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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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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