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North Carolina's birth certificate policy faces legal challenge by LGBTQ advocates

Lillith Campos
Bethanie Simms
Lillith Campos stands outside a GOP dinner hosted for Lt. Gov Mark Robinson in Jacksonville, North Carolina on Trans Awareness Day, following the brutal murder of a trans woman in the town earlier this year.

Earlier this month, the Lambda Legal Defense Fund announced a lawsuit seeking to reverse a requirement that transgender citizens undergo surgery in order to obtain a birth certificate that reflects their gender identity.

Lillith Campos, an Onslow County resident, and transgender rights activist said the required “sex reassignment surgery” is expensive and sometimes medically unnecessary.

“There’s people like me that can’t afford surgery. There's people that just flat out don't want surgery, and there's people that can't have surgery due to medical reasons," she said.

Lillith is a plaintiff in the case, joined by two minor plaintiffs. She calls her co-plaintiffs brave.

“We need to recognize that there's these kids out there that are fighting these fights with me. They’re the real heroes," she said.

For Carl Charles of Lambda Legal’s Atlanta office, the case is important because birth certificates carry more weight than other state documents.

“It is a quintessential identity document that follows a person from birth until death. It is essential to every person's ability to navigate through life, oftentimes required to access employment, education, housing, health care, banking, travel, and government services," he said.

Transgender rights advocates say that in addition to eliminating expensive and unnecessary surgery, overturning the current law will also ensure the protection of citizens from the “unnecessary and potentially harmful disclosure of their transgender status, and reduce incidents of harassment and violence.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign organization, 2021 has been the deadliest year ever for trans people. While they acknowledge that this is due to correct identification in reporting, they believe far too many cases are still not reported as hate crimes.

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a Lambda Legal senior attorney, said changing the current law is a matter of safety and that trans individuals are at risk when they are “outed” by gender mismatched documents. “The practical, realistic, well-documented harms that flow from this is the endangerment of the health and well-being of people.”

The Lambda Legal Defense Fund has previously been involved in other transgender issues in North Carolina including H.B. 2, the so-called bathroom bill.

Gonzalez-Pagan was a part of the team that successfully argued the marriage equality case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

He said the current case is based on similar constitutional right violations, “the reality is that there are well-founded and recognized constitutional right to informational privacy. Sensitive information that pertains to any individual that cannot be disclosed unnecessarily and without safeguards. And if you are going to disclose that you need to have a very good, very good reason to do so... Another aspect is that this simply just doesn't treat people equally.”

North Carolina is one of only 16 remaining states to require sex reassignment surgery for trans people (cisgender people do not have this requirement) in order to change their gender on a birth certificate. Kansas, Idaho, New York, Ohio, and Puerto Rico have all similar cases when their laws were challenged in federal court. Tennessee's law is also currently being challenged.

A dangerous environment for trans people

Campos believes the uptick in national and local anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has led to a far more violent and aggressive environment for the trans community — a pain she experienced earlier this year following the violent murder of friend and fellow advocate Jenna Franks in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Campos said she was a "very bright star" and her death "really shook the community."

In October, North Carolina again garnered national attention when a video surfaced of Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson calling "transgenderism" and "homosexuality" "filth" during a Baptist church service. Despite pleas for his resignation, he doubled down. Many critics of Robinson have suggested that this kind of language makes harassment and even physical violence against the LGBTQ community more likely.

Lillith Campos said it was a personal affront to the LGBTQ+ community that Onslow County Republican Party Chairwoman Melinda Highers organized an event honoring Robinson on November 20th, Transgender Awareness Day—an event Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center protested.

jacksonville Trans Awareness Day Protest
Bethanie Simms
Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center activists protest a dinner honoring Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson after he made disparaging remarks against the trans and gay community.

Gonzales-Pagan said he is confident in the merit of this case because of victories in other states based on the same arguments.

Lillith Campos said her own transition and the discrimination she has faced at work and in her personal life has caused her to become an advocate and stand up for others who are often suffering alone in small rural communities.

She said she hopes their efforts will ensure others will not have to suffer further discrimination: ”That's my hope, that we will have equality one day that we won't be seen as less than or second class citizens.”

Bethanie is a freelance writer for WHQR. She was the 2021-2022 UNCW News Fellow during the pursuit of her M.A. in English. She holds a B.A. in Political Studies with a focus on Constitutional Law. Originally from California and Colorado, she is a Marine Corps Military Police Reserve officer and an Afghanistan War Veteran. Her civilian professional background includes corporate finance and legal litigation.