Testimony of Anya Mukarji-Connolly, Supervising Attorney of LGBTQ Law Project, Before the New York City Council Committee on Immigration Regarding Proposed Bill No. 253

April 30, 2014 

Thank you to Committee Chair Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Council Member Daniel Dromm for spearheading this important bill.

My name is Anya Mukarji-Connolly and I am the supervising attorney for the LGBT Law Project at the New York Legal Assistance Group.  Our office provides free legal services and advocacy to low income Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) communities throughout New York City.  We work to defend and expand the rights of New York City’s LGBTQ community and offer legal advice and representation in a wide variety of poverty-related civil legal matters, such as employment discrimination, housing, public assistance, legal name changes and family law.

On behalf of the New York Legal Assistance Group, I am here to offer our strong support for the proposed New York City Municipal ID card and to advocate for a policy that would allow applicants to self-attest to their gender.

Why Is a Municipal ID Card Important to LGBTQ Communities?

Having access to accurate and valid government issued ID cards is a particularly pressing issue for transgender and gender non-conforming communities.  Transgender people are more likely to have problems obtaining accurate and valid ID documents. Family rejection and homelessness in transgender communities is even more severe than for other communities.  Over 50% of transgender people have experienced significant family rejection, and one in three transgender New Yorkers has been homeless.  Not having valid ID that accurately reflect a person’s seld-identified gender is one of the greatest factors in causing discrimination and often leads to humiliation, harassment and violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people.    Valid ID is needed to apply for work, enter most buildings in New York, travel, use a credit card, produce upon request from law enforcement, and many other daily interactions.

The Right to Define One’s Gender

As advocates working with LGBTQ New Yorkers, we believe that it is vitally important for residents to self-identify their gender. No documentation, including medical documentation, should be required to establish one’s gender on his or her identity document. Today, we’d want to help counter any concerns that self-identifying one’s gender will increase the potential for fraud or cause confusion.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  Having accurate identification that reflects ones lived gender will help avoid confusion and the subsequent “outing” of a person which often leads to violence and discrimination.

Let me be clear, the self-attestation policy which has been proposed will allow a person to do what the NYC Human Rights Law already contemplates and protects.  That is, a person has the right to self-identify their gender.  A person’s gender identity is not the basis of the municipal ID card and is only one of many identifying features included on identification cards.  All applicants must first provide valid documentation of their name and residency in New York City.  Only with proper documentation, which will be vetted for authenticity by trained staff, can a person obtain a city-issued ID card.

Allowing people to self-identity their gender for purposes of the municipal ID card follows the protocol recommended by the World Professionals Association of Transgender Health, Inc. (“WPATH”)[1], an international, multidisciplinary, professional association whose mission is to promote evidence-based care, education, research, advocacy, public policy, and respect in transsexual and transgender health.

There are a number of reasons why transgender and gender non-conforming people should not have to provide medical documentation of their gender identity. First, not every transgender person requires or wants assistance from a health care provider to aid in transition. An applicant should not be required to seek out unwanted, unnecessary and potentially costly health care treatment only to fulfill an arbitrary requirement to access ID that accurately reflects his or her gender.  Further, not all transgender people have access to the transition-related health care they require. Transition-related healthcare, much of which is not yet covered by health insurance, can be prohibitively expensive and unattainable for the majority of transgender individuals.

A New York City municipal ID that allows for self-attestation of gender will prevent the burden of unattainable and often unwanted surgery and resulting sterilization, the creation of discriminatory practices for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals and the encroachment on an individual’s right to privacy.

The Municipal ID Bill Will Support Public Safety Efforts in NYC

By ensuring that all New York residents have access to accurate and valid government-issued identification cards, the City will be promoting public safety in New York City.  Indeed, many of the municipal identification card efforts around the country grew out of public safety initiatives with intentions of ensuring that marginalized communities, including undocumented communities, were empowered to engage with police. Like earlier efforts, ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to a valid and gender-affirming city-issued identification card may make it easier for people to access important services, including police assistance.  It will further assist the police in making a positive identification of people they stop.  Instead of being held in police custody while the police make a positive identity, residents with valid identification can also assist the police in identifying the people they stop and interact with while on patrol, and will assist city agencies and applicants in need to access critical social services for themselves and their families.

The Municipal ID is in Line with the NYPD Patrol Guide

The gender self-attestation policy being proposed in the municipal identification bill is in line with the New York Police Department’s Patrol Guide which was revised in June 2012 to prevent discriminatory practices against transgender and gender non-conforming individuals during interactions with the police.  The revised guide includes an expansive definition of “gender” to include gender identity and expression, consistent with New York City’s Human Rights Law. The Patrol Guide instructs police officers to refer to transgender New Yorkers by names and pronouns that reflect their gender identity (even if it does not match the information on their ID documents).  This has resulted in amended forms so that people’s “preferred name” can be recorded and used while they are in police custody. The Patrol Guide prohibits officers from searching a person for the sole purpose of determining a person’s gender.  The Guide also applies to school safety officers, who are NYPD officers in New York City Public Schools.

Preventing Fraud

In order for New York’s municipal identification card to be useful and effective, it must be secure and safeguards must be in place to prevent any fraudulent use.  As advocates working with vulnerable communities, we share the city’s goal of ensuring that this municipal identification card is both accessible to those who need it most and that the cards are accurate and accepted as a valid form of identification by all public and private agencies in New York City.

The proposed bill contemplates the potential for fraud and has included safeguards to ensure that only those with valid proof of identification can obtain and use these cards.  The proposed municipal identification card will only be available to applicants who can produce valid forms of government-issued identification to prove one’s identity, and two forms of documentation to prove one’s residency in New York City.  The city agency who will ultimately administer these identification cards will have trained staff to determine the authenticity of all identification and documentation.

Important identifying information-name, address, and date of birth- will be included on the face of the identification card in order to ensure that the user of the card is the true card holder.  That information will assist card holders in applying for City services.  The card itself will not make an individual eligible for services that they are not otherwise eligible for.  The card will merely be used to establish a person’s name, address and date of birth.  Other identifying features on the face of the card, such as date of birth, gender, height, weight and eye color, will help ensure that only those issued a valid identification card are able to use the card.

Gender identity and expression does not requires a diagnosis or medical intervention.  Therefore, requiring medical documentation of one’s gender identity is unnecessary, overly burdensome, a violation of privacy and at odds with nationally recognized standards of medical care.

Precedent  

The New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has already implemented a self-attestation of gender policy.  In 2006, DHS introduced a policy for single adults seeking shelter to be placed in sex-segregated facilities based upon on the gender with which they identify. The DHS policy is simple and straight forward: when a staff member asks an individual how they identify, a placement is made based upon what the client says, irrespective of legal documents or physical appearance.  Seven years after the implementation of this policy, DHS reported that the policy was a success, despite the surrounding controversy and concerns[2].

We hope that New York City’s Municipal ID card will be the next the follow suit.  Transgender and gender non-conforming individual, among the most vulnerable residents in New York City, need access to accurate and valid ID cards and that is just what this proposed bill will do-make these cards safe and accurate and accessible.

We applaud the City Council and the Mayor’s office for taking this critical step toward ensuring that all New Yorker’s have access to valid ID cards.  We urge you to continue to push for the self-attestation clause, which will make a great idea an even better one by recognizing the diverse needs of the people who call New York City their home.   Thank you.

Respectfully submitted,

Anya Mukarji-Connolly, Esq.
New York Legal Assistance Group


[2] According to DHS, “[d]espite early controversy and predictions of failure, our policy was implemented throughout the shelter system successfully and without incident.” Testimony of Douglas James, Commissioner of Adult Services at the Department of homeless services, June 10, 2013, available at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dhs/downloads/pdf/testimony/dhs_final_lgbt_061013.pdf.