An advocate for transgender people gave an impassioned plea Thursday during a public hearing about a proposed amendment to regulations regarding vital records in Kansas.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is considering changing regulations that which records can be amended and what documents would be required to make those changes. One of those changes that would prevent people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificate without medical records proving an error was made on the original copy.
According to KDHE officials, the current regulations require updating in order to be in compliance with the Uniform Vital Statistics Act.
Stephanie Mott, executive director for the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project, says the move is puts well-being of transgender people at risk.
Mott pointed to a 2014 study by the Williams Institute that showed more than 40-percent of transgender teens have attempted suicide. She says those numbers increase when the person’s identity is invalidated.
“These regulations will result in the deaths of multiple transgender teenagers in Kansas. Children will die,” Mott said. “Parents of transgender teenagers will come home to the lifeless bodies of their kids, hanging by a necktie in the same closets these regulations forced them to live in.”
Mott spoke of her own experiences as a child who struggled with daily suicidal thoughts after realizing public perception of transgender people made it difficult to live authentically.
“In 2005, when I embraced myself as the woman I have always been, those thoughts of suicide went away,” Mott said.
In her testimony, Mott says the policy amendment would stand in the way of other transgender Kansans searching for the same sense of acceptance.
“These regulations are just one more message telling them they can’t [live an authentic life]. “You don’t know these things because you don’t live in the world in live in,” Mott said to KDHE officials. “But in the world you live in, you try to legislate and regulate the world I live in.”
Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray joined Mott in her criticism of the proposed actions. The attorney called on KDHE officials to join the growing number of states who are modernizing their own vital records policies in accordance with current medical understanding of treatment for transgender individuals.
Irigonegaray cited the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ recent condemnation of state laws and pending proposals that target the LGBT community, which have been found unconstitutional and in violation of civil rights.
According to Irigonegaray, medical and mental health authorities across the country have advocated for states to let transgender people to update birth records to match their gender identity and expression. Preventing them from doing so, the lawyer said, makes actions such as proving eligibility for employment, accessing public benefits and applying for other types of identity documents nearly impossible.
Before stepping away from the podium, Irigonegaray blasted state officials for painting Kansas as a state that fosters discrimination.
“It’s time that we as Kansans stop being embarrassed by the bigoted policies of the current administration,” Irigonegaray said. “It is an outrage that the current administration, with the stroke of a pen, took away equal protection under the laws to our gay, lesbian and transgender people. Willful ignorance is what’s motivating this administration. We must not tolerate bigotry’s brutality.”
If the KDHE approves the policy change, Kansas would become one of only four states that do not allow people to change the sex on their birth certificate.
Cassie Sparks, a spokesperson for the KDHE, says written and oral comments from Thursday’s hearing will be submitted for to the administrative record for review and it could be as long as six weeks before a decision is made. KDHE Secretary Susan Mosier is tasked with the authority to make that decision.
Mosier was not present at the hearing.