Lawsuit challenges North Carolina rules on transgender ID

Published 11:55 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2021

By Tom Foreman Jr.
Associated Press

WINSTON-SALEM — North Carolina’s requirement that transgender people undergo sex reassignment surgery as part of establishing their identity is discriminatory and does not align with a majority of states and medical organizations, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court.

Three law firms joined to file the lawsuit in North Carolina’s Middle District Court on behalf of an adult and two minors.

The lawsuit said the adult plaintiff, Lillith Campos, is incorrectly identified on her birth certificate as male. It added that another plaintiff, a young man only identified as C.B., is incorrectly identified as female on his birth certificate while a third, M.D., is a girl incorrectly identified on her birth certificate as male.

“For transgender persons, the sex designation on their original birth certificate is inaccurate because they were assigned the incorrect sex at birth. Correcting the sex designation on their birth certificate is critically important for transgender people,” the lawsuit says. “Indeed, few things are as essential to one’s personhood and regular interaction with the world as being able to accurately present one’s identity to the world.”

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Mark Benton, assistant secretary of public health, and Clarlynda Williams-Devane, state registrar and director of the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics. A spokeswoman for Cohen’s office said it didn’t comment on pending litigation.

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, an attorney for Lambda Legal, said North Carolina statutes require people to have undergone sex reassignment surgery in order to correct a birth certificate. He calls the requirement “antiquated” and points to the lawsuit which says 34 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico permit people to correct the sex designation on their birth certificate to accurately reflect their sex without the need for surgery.

“Ultimately, this lawsuit is about the ability of people to be recognized for who they are,” Gonzalez-Pagan said. “To not be outed by a document and to protect their privacy.”

The lawsuit seeks to have the state to declare the surgical requirement unlawful, and for North Carolina to be require to provide accurate birth certificates to transgender people born in the state without the need for surgery.

Campos, the adult plaintiff, has encountered employment discrimination, according to Gonzalez-Pagan. Her employer doesn’t provide coverage for gender-affirming care in the business’ health insurance plan, which prevents her from getting the surgery required by the state, he said.

“As a trans woman, having incorrect documentation makes me feel like a second-class citizen because I am denied the same rights as the rest of the population. It just makes me feel like I am ‘less than’ before the eyes of the state,” Campos said in a news release.

C.B. has witnessed classmates being singled out for bullying, while M.D. was playing on a softball league until her county told her she couldn’t play on a girl’s team because her birth certificate didn’t reflect who she is, Gonzalez-Pagan said.

The lawsuit also points to a contradiction in state regulations. North Carolina does permit transgender people to correct their sex designation on their driver license and state identification cards to accurately reflect their sex without a requirement to undergo a surgical procedure.

Also, the lawsuit says the state’s requirement for surgery is inconsistent with mainstream medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association.

“North Carolina’s Surgical Requirement is not supported by any compelling, important, or even legitimate government interest,” the lawsuit says.