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Kansans: Act fast if you need to change your gender marker on legal docs, attorney says; here’s how

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Lawrence Public Library to host free gender marker legal clinic in person and online on May 17

Transgender Kansans and people who need to get their gender markers changed on their birth certificates and IDs should act quickly before the state’s new anti-trans laws go into effect, according to an attorney who is a subject matter expert.

Ellen Bertels, an attorney with Kansas Legal Services, created the Kansas Name Change Project and serves trans, nonbinary and gender-diverse folks around the state. She gave a virtual clinic Thursday — the first of a few such events planned in the near future — to inform people about the basics they need to know to get their markers changed.

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There can be a lot of factors that make every person’s specific situation a little different, Bertels said, but she shared some basic information about how the process typically works for people who were born in Kansas who need to have their gender corrected on their birth certificates and state-issued IDs or driver’s licenses.

Here are some of the key things to know from Bertels’ clinic, co-presented by Equality Kansas.

Why the hurry?

The Kansas Legislature last week overrode the governor’s veto to enact SB 180, dubbed the “women’s bill of rights,” which is intended to bar individuals who are born without the ability to produce eggs for reproduction from using women’s restrooms, locker rooms and other gender-specific areas, as Kansas Reflector has reported.

That’s not all the bill does, though. Bertels said she and other legal experts believe based on their reading of the bill that “it is extremely likely” that the Kansas Office of Vital Statistics will no longer change gender markers when the bill goes into effect on July 1.

“It may be kind of the worst case scenario vision of the bill, but I want to do as much as we can to make sure that folks are well protected,” she said.

There may still be lawsuits to challenge the constitutionality of SB 180 and other laws, but Bertels is not involved in those conversations, she said.

What to do first?

Normally, Bertels said she’d recommend that people get their birth certificates amended first; the new birth certificates can then be used to get Kansas IDs and driver’s licenses updated. But in the current climate, she said she would encourage folks to try to do both as quickly as possible.

What about name changes?

Bertels said she understands the importance of name changes — she runs the state’s name change clinic, after all — but she’s advising people to hold off on going through the process to get their name changed right now and focus instead on changing their gender markers within the next eight weeks.

People will still be able to go through the more complex legal process of getting their names changed, and then getting those changes reflected on legal documents, after July 1 — and that won’t change with the new law. That’s why she’s emphasizing that folks should get their gender markers updated now and deal with name changes later.

How do I update my gender marker on my Kansas birth certificate?

To change your birth certificate gender marker, you will need:
an application;
an affidavit, which must be signed in front of a notary;
 a copy of the front and back of your driver’s license or state-issued ID;
a check or money order — no cash — payable to Kansas Vital Statistics (the cost is $20 to make the change, and $20 for each certified copy of your amended birth certificate, so if you only need one copy, it will cost $40 total); and
proof of a gender marker change. That can be an ID or passport with an amended gender marker, or a letter from a health care professional — more on that below.

Here’s what the application and affidavit look like, from the Kansas Legal Services website. (Bertels said the “Reason for request” you write on the application can be as simple as “Gender marker amendment.”)

Birth-Certificate-Amendment-App-aff

Bertels said it can be more difficult in some smaller communities in Kansas to find a notary, but many banks offer notary services for free, and many FedEx and UPS stores offer them for a charge of $10 to $15.

Some libraries, but not all, offer notarization. You can call the Lawrence Public Library at 785-843-3833 to ask if a notary is available when you’d like to sign your affidavit.

Mail the forms, or go in person?

Bertels said typically, you can get an amended birth certificate in about an hour if you bring those documents to the Office of Vital Statistics in Topeka, and she recommended that route for anybody who can do that.

The lobby is on the first floor of the Curtis State Office Building. Walk-in service is available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for holidays, according to the office’s website.

It typically takes about four weeks to make the change by mail, she said.

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“I’m very concerned that Vital Statistics is going to have a backlog, and they’re going to take a long time to correct birth certificates,” Bertels said. “Part of me fears that if you wait for your birth certificate to be corrected, you won’t be able to amend your driver’s license as well.”

But you can mail the forms, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, to:
Office of Vital Statistics
ATTN: Amendments Unit
1000 SW Jackson Ste. 110
Topeka, KS 66612-2221

Bertels said including “ATTN: Amendments Unit” on the envelope will help expedite the process.

How do I update my Kansas driver’s license/ID gender marker?

If you already have a valid Kansas DL or ID, you will need several documents:
 “Proof of lawful presence,” such as a birth certificate, unexpired passport, permanent resident card, employment authorization card, naturalization certificate or consular report of birth abroad;
Proof of your Social Security number, such as your Social Security card or a current W-2, 1099 or pay stub that shows your full SSN;
Proof of your Kansas residency — two kinds of official documents or mail, such as a lease agreement or mortgage, recent utility bill, voter registration card, or a number of other items on the list at this link;
Your most recent DL or ID;
A checkbook, card or money order to pay for the new ID; and
A document in support of your gender marker change.

If you already have your amended birth certificate, that is ideal to get your DL/ID updated. A court order reflecting your gender marker change also works.

If you don’t, you can send a letter to the Kansas Drivers’ Licensing Management Office requesting the change in gender, along with a letter from a licensed medical or osteopathic physician. Kansas Legal Services provides a template for this letter and much more information in this resource guide. If you need to go that route, Bertels suggested sending the letter as soon as possible.

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What do I need from a health care professional?

Bertels said there’s no specific language that must be used, but it should be a signed letter from a health care professional or mental health care professional “with whom the person has a doctor-patient relationship stating that based on his or her professional opinion the true gender identity of the applicant and that it is expected that this will continue to be the gender with which the applicant will identify in the future.”

Bertels said people should ask their health care providers if they are concerned about how or whether the gender marker change could impact their insurance coverage.

If you don’t have a relationship with a health care provider and won’t be able to establish one quickly, you can amend a U.S. passport with a corrected gender marker or obtain a new passport. However, that can be costly, and even if you have your passport expedited this week, it still might not arrive in time to get your other documents updated. The Kansas Legal Services website refers to the National Center for Transgender Equality resource at this link for more information about passports.

What if I’m not an ‘M’ or an ‘F’?

Unfortunately, Bertels said, the state of Kansas does not recognize any gender markers other than M (male) or F (female).

How can a minor get an amended birth certificate?

The process is mostly the same for minors, except that on the application for an amended birth certificate, a parent must sign as the requestor of the change on the child’s behalf and include copies of their own ID if the minor does not have one. Bertels said if there is only one parent in the household, only they have to sign an affidavit. However, if parents are divorced, separated or estranged, or if one parent is not affirming, it’s unlikely that the amendment will be accepted without signed affidavits from both parents. She said the law isn’t clear, but she has only seen applications for amendments be accepted if both parents have signed affidavits.

Learn more

In Lawrence: Kansas Legal Services and the Lawrence Public Library are teaming up for a hybrid in-person and online info session.

That’s set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 17 at the library, 707 Vermont St. Join the meeting virtually via Zoom at this link.

Ahead of that meeting, there will be an in-person clinic in Wichita with presentations at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Monday, May 9 at M-Care Healthcare.

There will also be a presentation at 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 10 at the Kansas City Center for Inclusion — which is in Missouri, but the clinic still applies to people born and/or living in Kansas.

One more virtual clinic is also planned for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 18. Join the Zoom meeting at this link.

Lastly, Kansas Legal Services has a lot of information and resources available on its website. Read more and find further resources at this link.

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Note: This post was updated to add the time and date of the second virtual clinic. Post updated again June 18, 2023.

Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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