Transgender Americans Race To Finish Paperwork Before Trump Administration | KERA News

Transgender Americans Race To Finish Paperwork Before Trump Administration

Dec 17, 2016
Originally published on January 12, 2017 4:07 pm

Many transgender people in the U.S. are rushing to change their designated gender on government documents before President-elect Donald Trump takes office. They worry the next administration may take that ability away.

There's no indication so far that this is a priority for Trump. Mara Keisling with the National Center for Transgender Equality says Trump's positions on trans issues are not clear. But she's concerned about people he's nominated for key positions in his administration.

"Virtually every — if not every — appointment he has announced so far has been an extremely anti-LGBT person," says Keisling. She says trans advocacy groups around the country have been fielding calls from concerned people ever since the election. And they are not alone.

"The calls to our office have increased a lot," says Benjamin Jerner, managing partner of the Philadelphia law firm Jerner & Palmer, which specializes in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender legal issues.

States control many government documents, such as birth certificates and driver's licenses, Jerner reassures his clients. A new president won't affect those.

Of more concern, he says, are gender designations on federal documents such as passports, immigration papers and Social Security accounts.

Jerner says passports are the biggest concern because State Department rules could be changed relatively easily under a new administration.

Deciding whether to change gender designations on documents can be an especially tricky question for parents of transgender children. Jerner recently held a legal clinic for such parents in Philadelphia and says 18 families showed up.

"I think that just tells you the level of fear and anxiety that's out there," he says.

Among those attending were the parents of 10-year-old Dylan, who was born a boy but — with her parents' encouragement — has long hair, wears pink and lives as a girl.

That fits with guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the leading U.S. group of doctors serving children. The general idea is that parents should support their child and not make any big decisions that could limit the child's options in the future. That's because some children who appear to be transgender early on are not when they grow up.

NPR agreed to use only first names for Dylan and her family. Some groups consider it a form of abuse to allow a child to transition to the opposite gender — even though it's in line with the AAP. Dylan's parents — Marla and Jennifer — say other families have had child abuse reports filed against them after they were identified in news stories.

Marla says Dylan has identified herself as a girl for as long as she could talk.

"It took us about three years to really sort out with Dylan what that meant," Marla says. "We kept telling her, 'Oh, there's lots of ways to be a boy — you can be a fancy boy, you can be a sparkly boy.' " But Marla says Dylan steadfastly insisted she's a girl.

Marla says they plan to administer puberty blockers when Dylan reaches that stage. That will make it easier for Dylan to physically transition to female later if she chooses.

Dr. David Levine, a professor of pediatrics at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, says this is a good approach.

"I predict this 10-year-old is going to do great, because the parents are so on board and so supportive of their child," he says.

Levine says he's not too worried that a Trump administration will make big changes that will affect transgender people. But he also is not opposed to parents who want to change their child's gender designations now because, technically, that's something that could be reversed in the future if it became necessary.

Dylan's parents had planned to change her gender on government documents when she got a driver's license. Because of their concerns over the political climate, they are doing that now instead.

So, on a recent evening — just as Dylan and her siblings were finishing up homework — a notary came to their home to witness Marla and Jennifer signing a short stack of papers. Once filed, they will change the gender listed on Dylan's birth certificate, Social Security account and passport — when she gets one — to female.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And switching gears now, parents of children who identify as transgender are rushing to change how their kids identify their gender on government documents before President-elect Donald Trump takes office. That's because some in the transgender community worry that the next administration could make such changes more difficult. NPR's Jeff Brady has this report.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Here's a question 10-year-old Dylan is used to answering.

DYLAN: I always say yes when they ask me are you a boy or a girl? I always say girl.

BRADY: Dylan was born a boy, but today with her parents' encouragement, she has long hair, wears pink and lives as a girl. That fits with the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. The general idea is that parents should support their child, but not make any big decisions that could limit the child's options in the future. That's because some children who appear to be transgender early on, are not when they grow up. It's very unlikely Dylan will fall into that category. One of her parents, Marla, says Dylan has said she's a girl since she could talk.

MARLA: And it took us about three years to really sort out with Dylan what that meant because we kept telling her, oh, there's lots of ways to be a boy. You can be a fancy boy. You can be a sparkly boy, and she was like you all ain't getting it.

BRADY: NPR agreed to use only first names for this family. The parents worry about anti-LGBT activists. Some of them have filed child abuse reports against parents of trans kids, even though the parents are following American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. Dr. David Levine is professor of pediatrics at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

DAVID LEVINE: When you think about what really, really helps these transgender kids make it to adulthood without substance abuse, without other dysfunction, it's when the parents hear them and support them and give them unconditional love.

BRADY: Dylan's parents had planned to change her gender on government documents when she got her driver's license, but since this is something that technically could be changed back, they decided to go ahead and do that now.

MARLA: It was the election that prompted the urgency.

BRADY: On a recent evening, just as Dylan and her siblings were finishing up homework, a visitor arrived.

MARLA: Hey. All right. Where'd you park? Good...

BRADY: Marla and her wife invited a notary to witness them sign a short stack of documents sitting on the coffee table.

JENNIFER: I'm Jennifer. I'm Dylan's other mother, and we are filling out a variety of official papers here. We are putting a correction on the back of the birth certificate which is what we were advised to do.

BRADY: Just after the election, Jennifer and Marla attended a legal clinic for parents of trans children. Philadelphia attorney Benjamin Jerner led that clinic. It says 18 families showed up.

BENJAMIN JERNER: I think that just tells you the level of fear and anxiety that's out there.

BRADY: Jerner assured those parents that a lot of government documents are controlled by states, so a new president won't affect those. He says federal documents are a bigger concern.

JERNER: Generally, you're talking about passport, immigration documents, the gender marker that's associated with your social security number.

BRADY: Jerner says trans people should change passports as soon as possible. That's because State Department rules could be changed relatively easily under a new administration. There's no indication this is a priority for President-elect Trump. Mara Keisling with the National Center for Transgender Equality says Trump's positions on trans issues are not clear, but she's concerned about people he's nominated for key positions in his administration.

MARA KEISLING: Virtually every - if not every - appointment he has announced so far has been an extremely anti-LGBT person.

BRADY: Keisling says given the uncertain political landscape, trans people who plan to change the gender on their government documents should do it sooner rather than later. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.