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Today is Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Social Security Administration Changes Policy on Transsexuals and Intersexed

What does one do if the boss walks in and says, "Hey, I thought you were a woman when I hired you. Why did you lie to me?"

Farfetched? Hardly, and the Social Security Administration just made it more likely to occur.

In a mid-October 2002 policy change that took place without announcement or explanation, the Social Security Administration instituted a tougher requirement for changing one's gender marker in the SSA records. The new policy (RM 00203.210 paragraph C) requires a person -- the Number Holder (NH) in SSA parlance ? to provide "Clinic or medical records or other combination of documents showing the sex change surgery has been completed. All documents must clearly identify the NH." Previous policy required documents that show sex change surgery has either been completed or started.

The new policy might seem reasonable at first blush; after all, it is the same requirement that must be met to change gender on one's U.S. passport, usually satisfied by a notarized letter from the surgeon saying that he had performed female-to-male or male-to-female sex reassignment surgery on the individual.

Transgender activists and many transsexuals and intersexed people realize that the Social Security situations and the passport situations are not the same. Many people can do without a passport while they are in transition from one sex to another or in the process of correcting birth defects. But everyone who works must provide his or her employer a Social Security number.

Problems arise when the SSA runs a periodic audit of company records and the gender markers don't match. SSA advises the company that there is an error in the company's records and directs the company to correct its records. This sends the boss or someone from payroll to the person's worksite asking, "Why doesn?t your gender match what Social Security says it is?" And another transsexual is ousted and legally subject to termination in most locations.

The State Department will issue a one-year temporary passport in the new gender for pre-op transsexuals or intersexed people whose surgeons certify that a surgery date has been scheduled. The new SSA policy does not address this issue of people who are in transition or who cannot undergo sex reassignment surgery for health or financial reasons but who live and work in their chosen gender. Because the Benjamin Standards of Care for transsexuals requires a minimum one-year 'Real Life Experience' of living and working in the new gender full time before obtaining authorization for sex reassignment surgery, the new SSA policy will adversely impact almost every transsexual in transition.

"This step backwards in the Social Security Administration's understanding and handling of transsexual and intersexed needs will lead to further discrimination against a whole class of people who already have enough obstacles in their way," said Vanessa Edwards Foster, Chair of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition. "Government should be about making people's lives better, not about making life more difficult."

Foster noted that such thoughtless actions by a federal agency that impacts the life of every citizen reinforce the need for an Employment Nondiscrimination Act that includes protection for the transgender community. "A transgender-inclusive ENDA would remove the worry of being fired for not appearing as Social Security records indicate," said Foster, "but it would not avoid the embarrassment or exposure to bigotry that would come by being outed as a transsexual."

NTAC, the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, is a 501(c)(4) political advocacy coalition working to establish and maintain the right of all transgendered, intersexed, and gender-variant people to live and work without fear of violence or discrimination.

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