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No birth certificate fix for transgender Montanans despite court order

Montana birth certificate law affecting transgender citizens
Posted at 6:40 PM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 21:21:05-04

HELENA — The Montana state health department is not providing the forms needed for people to change the sex on their birth certificate, despite a recent court order.

The order came out of a lawsuit over a 2021 law requiring transgender Montanans get surgery and a court order to get a different sex on their birth certificate. On April 21, a Yellowstone County judge said the health department could not enforce the law until a court decides if it is constitutional. Instead, the health department was told to return to the status quo, which was a 2017 rule that simplified the process for people to change their birth certificate.

The suit was filed in state District Court in Billings by two transgender Montanans who said the 2021 law violated their right to privacy and equal protection under the law.

Under the 2017 rule, transgender Montanans needed to submit an affidavit and a gender designation form to get an updated birth certificate. The gender designation form was last available on the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services website in April 2021, according to web archives.

Previous DPHHS gender designation form

When MTN News went to the state birth and death certificates office Friday, staff did not provide a copy of the form. Staff said the Montana Department of Justice and the health department’s legal counsel were still reviewing the judge’s decision.

When Dean, a transgender man born in Montana but now lives in Minnesota, heard about the preliminary injunction, he said he reached out to the state’s vital statistics office to try to find out if he could get his sex changed on his birth certificate. Dean is a man, he said, but on his birth certificate he is still listed as female.

Dean requested his last name not be used because of his concerns about future employment.

Without a fixed birth certificate, Dean said he doesn’t want to change any of his other official documents because they won’t match. He avoids situations where he needs to submit identification documents, he said, because it feels like people are asking him what is in his pants. He’s refrained from taking promotions and getting new insurance to avoid resubmitting documents.

“I don’t want to have those conversations again with that big ‘F’ on all my documents,” Dean said.

A DPHHS spokesperson, Chuck Council, would not respond to questions about how transgender Montanans can get their birth certificates fixed. Council said the ongoing lawsuit prevented him from providing any information.

The Montana Supreme Court’s website did not show that the state had appealed Moses’ decision as of Friday. The state has also not filed anything yet on the district court level, according to the case’s register of actions.

The 2021 law was created by Senate Bill 280, which passed the 2021 Montana Legislature and by fairly close margins – 26-23 in the Senate and 54-46 in the House – with all “yes” votes coming from Republican lawmakers. Gov. Greg Gianforte signed it into law in April 2021.

Dean said he still doesn’t understand why Montana lawmakers make it so for hard for people like him.

“My life is literally irrelevant to them,” Dean said. “Let me make my own life easier.”

The Montana Attorney General’s Office had not responded MTNs request for comment as of Friday evening.