The Legislature passed a bill that could make it a lot easier for transgender people to change their gender on their birth certificates, joining a growing number of states to make the change.
Right now, people in Hawaii are required to undergo gender reassignment surgery if they want to make that change. But the state House and Senate approved a bill Tuesday that removes the surgical requirement, sending the bill to Gov. David Ige.
That was welcome news to those who feel that the gender they were assigned at birth doesn’t reflect the gender they identify with in daily life.
"This really is the beginning for trans equality," said Kaleo Ramos, a transgender man who was born female and who pushed for the legislation.
Many people don’t want to have surgery or can’t afford the hefty price tag, which can cost $20,000 to switch from female to male — just on the bottom, Ramos said.
Having identification that doesn’t match one’s outward appearance causes problems applying for jobs, student loans, health insurance and other services. The change could pave the way for transgender people to access life’s necessities and participate more fully in society, advocates said. Under the proposal, those who want to change their identity could present a note from a physician.
It also could help reduce incidents of suicide in the transgender community, said Rebecca Copeland, parent advocate with Equality Hawaii, whose has a 14-year-old transgender son.
"It’s the lack of recognition in society that really hurts people," Copeland said. "When people look at it and it doesn’t reflect who they are it can really have devastating consequences."
At least six other states have made similar changes to their birth certificate laws.
Not everyone in the Hawaii Legislature supported the bill. The state could end up issuing false documents that could lead to faulty passports, Republican Sen. Sam Slom said.
"We’re going down a very sketchy path here and in effect doctoring the truth," Slom said. "You’re either born a man or a woman and that’s the way it is."
While the bill would help those who identify as male or female, there’s a whole spectrum of gender identification for those whose identity falls somewhere in-between, Copeland said.
"That’s a fight for another day," Copeland said.