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Panel backs bill to ease gender switch on state birth certificates

  • Mika Inoue, of Kahala, stood outside a hearing room at the Hawaii State Capitol on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Cathy Bussewitz)

Mika Inoue was in college when she faced some of the scariest threats against her life as a transgender woman.

One roommate in her dormitory at the University of Hawaii at Hilo put poisonous spiders in her bed, and another wrote a death threat and stuck it in her door with a knife, she said.

Now in a better place, Inoue, 25, is hoping to avoid those situations by getting a new birth certificate that confirms with her gender identification — female — without having to undergo surgery.

"I’ve gone through physical and verbal abuse from my parents, co-workers and peers alike because of how I didn’t fit what is expected of me," Inoue said. "These things are real."

A bill moving through the Hawaii House would enable people like Inoue to switch the gender identification on their birth certificates without getting gender-reassignment surgery. Instead, they would provide a statement from a licensed medical or mental health provider.

The bill advanced out of the House Committee on Health on Wednesday. It now moves to the Judiciary Committee.

Having identification that’s in sync with a person’s name and appearance could reduce harassment in schools and the workplace, supporters said.

"A lot of these people are scared for their lives," Inoue said. "When you’re going into a workplace, you’re submitting a resume, and you have one name on your resume, but your birth certificate and ID and everything else says something different. It becomes a whole lot of questions from the employer."

But opponents argue that a birth certificate is a historical record, and that allowing people to change it could affect couples contemplating a marriage or officiants performing the ceremony.

"This not only infringes upon a person’s right to know but is contrary to any notion of transparency," said former Lieut. Gov. Duke Aiona, a Republican, in written testimony opposing the bill.

A person’s original gender also affects their ability to reproduce, opponents said.

"As a family law attorney, I have had to deal with the shock and pain (and humiliation) experienced by an individual who discovered the sex change of the spouse after they were already married," said Sandra Young, an Aiea attorney, in written testimony.

Not having documents that reflect the preferred gender identity from an early age can affect financial aid for students, said Camaron Miyamoto, coordinator at the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Student Services Office at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. One young man who transitioned from female to male was denied financial aid because he had not signed up for selective service when he was 18 years old, he said.

But surgery isn’t possible for many students, Miyamoto said. "Coming into the university, sometimes parental consent is not an option at all," he said.

Many Asian Pacific Islanders who identify as mahuwahine — a Native Hawaiian word for transgender women — don’t want to undergo surgery because they honor both the male and female parts of their identities, Inoue said.

"You’re losing a part of yourself," she added.

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