After years of resistance, Kansas will finally change its anti-transgender birth certificate policy – and it will be life-altering for many trans people
by Chris McGreal
Fri 26 Jul 2019
Luc Bensimon’s mother knew early in her child’s life that he would struggle. For a start, he was black in America. Then he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy on his right side, necessitating years of operations and physical therapy.
But there was something else that Bensimon’s mother only came to recognise years later: she assigned her son as female on his birth certificate because that is what his physical appearance told her.
Bensimon, who is now 47, says he was “born with three strikes. Being African American. Being physically challenged. And being assigned female. My mother told me those are three things that you’re going to battle your whole life.”
His mother was right. But for all the racism and physical struggle he endured, it is the fight to be recognised for who he is that has been the most demanding.
“I had a very strict religious upbringing. My uncle was a Baptist minister. My mom and my dad and I went to a Pentecostal church. My mom would dress me up for Easter in those ugly little dresses and I would just be angry,” he said.
Then there was puberty.
“I had to go get the training bra. I was just not OK with it. I guess my mom thought I was just rebelling and that was a teenage thing. So I told her in so many words that I’m pretending to be something I’m not comfortable being. My mom was, ‘I’m not OK with this’,” he said.
Much has changed. Bensimon began to transition in his 30s. A diminutive man with a neatly trimmed beard proudly wearing a sash proclaiming him “Mr Black Trans Kansas 2019”, he now has a name reflecting his gender. He describes his mother as very supportive in recent years.
But to this day, his Kansas birth certificate says that he is female.
For Bensimon, having the state effectively deciding who and what he is was an intolerable position. When he goes for a job, he’s required to prove he is a US citizen. The birth certificate he has to give to HR outs him in what is all too often a hostile world.
“You’ve got the dead name [the name before transition] and then the gender. You might have been living for God knows how many years as the gender you were meant to be. But you turn in that birth certificate and they’re just like, ‘Who is this?’,” said Bensimon.
That is finally about to change in Kansas. Earlier this month, Governor Laura Kelly said it was time for the state “to move past its outdated and discriminatory anti-transgender policy”. After years of resistance to change by Republican governors, the Democrat elected to the state’s top office last year withdrew opposition to a lawsuit by Bensimon and others seeking the right to say what is on their birth certificates.
“People say I’m just trying to erase the past. No, I’m not. But I can’t play a role I’m not meant to play. I’m a bad actor,” said Bensimon. “It’s important. Maybe not for some people but it is for me.”
Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a lawyer at Lambda Legal who has fought an array of cases on behalf of LGBT people, said Kelly’s decision leaves only Ohio and Tennessee as the outliers in refusing to allow transgender people to amend the record of their birth (Gonzalez-Pagan has filed lawsuits against both remaining states).