Kansas has agreed to change its policy and allow transgender people born in the state to update the sex listed on their birth certificates.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Friday entered into a consent decree that ends a lawsuit brought by four native Kansans and the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project, Inc. (K-STEP).
The policy change is significant because birth certificates can determine access to education, employment, health care, travel and the ability to obtain other identification documents.
“It actually will affect the day-to-day lives of every transgender person born in Kansas,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, which represented the plaintiffs. “It means that the state will finally recognize transgender people for who they are and respect that identity.”
Until now, Kansas was one of only three states that didn’t allow people to change their birth certificates to reflect a gender identity that differs from the one they were assigned at birth.
Federal courts have struck down similar policies in Idaho and Puerto Rico, leaving only Ohio and Tennessee with such policies.
The plaintiffs in the Kansas suit filed last October alleged that the state’s policy violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution. They also argued that it violated their free speech rights under the First Amendment.
Gov. Laura Kelly lauded the consent decree, saying “(I)t was time for Kansas to move past its outdated and discriminatory anti-transgender policy.”
“This decision acknowledges that transgender people have the same rights as anyone else, including the right to easily obtain a birth certificate that reflects who they are,” Kelly said in a statement.
Under the consent decree, Kansans wanting to apply for an updated birth certificate can now do so by submitting a sworn statement accompanied by a passport, driver’s license or a certification from a healthcare professional confirming their gender identity.
Gonzalez-Pagan said the policy change builds not just on Lambda Legal’s court victories in Idaho and Puerto Rico, but years of advocacy by transgender people in Kansas, “who have been fighting for this for a long time.”
“That includes Stephanie Mott,” Gonzalez-Pagan said. “I wish she could have lived to the day where she would see this victory that she had fought so hard for.”
Mott founded K-STEP, which was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, along with Nyla Foster, Luc Bensimon, Jessica Hicklin, and an individual identified only as C.K. Mott had sued Kansas separately over its policy previously, but later dropped her lawsuit. She died suddenly in March.
“Her advocacy to make Kansas better is remembered in this important decision and in other progress she achieved for transgender people,” Kelly said in her statement.
Before Kelly assumed office this year, Kansas had been hostile to expanding legal protections to include LGBT individuals.
In 2015, then-Gov. Sam Brownback rescinded an order by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius barring discrimination against LGBT employees of the state.
And last year, Kansas was one of 16 states that urged the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that it’s legal to fire people for being transgender.
The Kansas Office of Vital Statistics routinely approved driver’s license amendments until 2012, when the Brownback administration told the agency to stop doing so.
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said that made it difficult for transgender people to get driver’s licenses in other states and to register to vote in Kansas because of birth certificate requirements imposed by then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
“Just to be able to put a child in school, the birth certificate has to be disclosed to the school,” Witt said. “And in instances where you have a transgender child, those children were being outed. If you go in and get hired in a new job opportunity and you have to provide a birth certificate, those employees were being outed.
“So having the state of Kansas enter into this consent agreement is a big day for transgender Kansans.”
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.