Throughout my legal career, I have been proud to offer a warm and welcoming environment for anyone seeking services related to divorce (including Collaborative Divorce), adoption, name change, and other family law matters. Pretty soon after opening my practice in 2010, I began working with transgender clients seeking to have their names changed. Further along, I provided them instructions based on information given by various agencies and entities about how to change their gender marker (e.g., male or female) on birth certificates, driver’s licenses, passports, and social security documents, if they wish.
Why Does a Gender Marker Even Matter?
At first, I didn’t really understood the whole “gender marker thing.” After all, everyone has things we don’t like about ourselves, so why couldn’t transgender folks just live with the gender marker to which they were assigned at birth?
But after meeting and speaking with trans clients, I realized one thing: trans folks are just trying to live their lives. They have hopes and fears, dreams and obligations, just like everyone else. They want to get a driver’s license, graduate from school, build a family, travel, and grow a career without being impeded or having to go into detail about their private lives. Perhaps anyone can relate who has ever felt that they needed to hide their identity for being different, for being Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or Evangelical, for being conservative or progressive in a community that is of the opposite political persuasion.
And I think anyone who finally embraces that identity can relate to the relief and catharsis that recognition of the identity brings.
Maybe many of us, mainly those of us whose family have experienced what it is to flee danger or an unfree government, can also relate to the horror that comes when the authorities actively seek to deny or even suppress the identity of a subset of its citizens.
Florida’s New Policy on Updating Birth Certificates
Recently, I have seen a client’s application to Florida’s Office of Vital Statistics for a correction of their birth certificate gender marker be stuck in limbo, even when paying an extra fee and checking a box for “rush service” (in the past, birth certificates with corrected gender markers were provided within two weeks after requesting rush service). Upon many inquiries, the application, we were told, was “under review by counsel.” And then the client’s request was denied after over seven months of waiting, citing non-sensical new interpretations of existing statutes and rules. In the years since I have let trans clients know about the option to correct the gender marker on their birth certificates, this is the first time that I have seen this request denied.
Tampa Bay Times Letter to Editor on Transgender Matters
It was based on this, and recent news that corrected gender markers were now going to be denied on Florida driver’s licenses, that I submitted the following letter, published by the Tampa Bay Times website (scroll down to “More than a name”) on February 2, 2024:
Recently, Florida has stopped permitting transgender citizens from having their gender marker (for example, male or female) updated on driver’s licenses, according to a memo from the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Similarly, the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Vital Statistics has stopped permitting those born in Florida to update birth certificates to match their identity. Until a year ago, with a physician’s letter, both were permitted.
As a collaborative family law attorney who has represented many transgender clients, I see how these policies are affecting families.
Imagine when you were born, your parents named you “Thomas.” However, on your birth certificate, someone mistakenly misspells your name as “Tomas.” In school, you constantly have to correct your teachers to spell your name Thomas, rather than Tomas. You get teased by your classmates because the teachers cannot seem to get your name right.
As you grow older, your driver’s license reflects the wrong name. Whenever you get on an airplane, you get questioned whether your name is Thomas or Tomas. In fact, you may not be able to get on an airplane at all because security checks show a mismatch between documents. When you apply for a job or a student loan or a mortgage, you have to explain that you are Thomas, and not Tomas. And, sometimes, the potential employer or lender may deny you simply because they do not want to deal with the hassle.
And then imagine Florida says you can’t fix your documents. This is what transgender citizens are facing.
Life is already difficult enough for everyone, regardless of identity. Florida should not be making life even harder for a targeted group of citizens.
Please know, if you are facing a family law matter, no matter your views, faith, or identity, we offer a warm and welcoming environment to help you get through it.
Adam B. Cordover is a Collaborative Family Law Attorney and Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator who practices exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution. He was a lawyer on the first same-sex divorce in Florida to challenge the state’s so-called Defense of Marriage Act and constitutional ban against recognition of same-sex relationships.