Statement on behalf of the
American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital
by Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, Executive Director
Before the Committee on Judiciary of the Council of the District of Columbia
Bill 21-0444, the “Death Certificate Gender Identity Recognition Amendment Act of 2015”
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony on Bill 21-0444, the “Death Certificate Gender Identity Recognition Amendment Act of 2015”. My name is Monica Hopkins-Maxwell and I am Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital (ACLU-DC). I am here today on behalf of our more than 3,000 members across all eight wards in the District of Columbia.
The ACLU-DC champions transgender people’s right to be themselves. The ACLU-DC therefore fully supports Bill 21-0444, which: 1) amends the Vital Records Act of 1981 to clarify the process for respecting a decedent’s gender identity on their death certificate, 2) allows an individual with rights to a decedent’s remains to file a petition in Superior Court for determining gender identity, and 3) shields the person completing the death certificate from liability for damages or costs for how they enter the decedent’s sex.
The ACLU-DC’s work on behalf of transgender and gender non-conforming people seeks to ensure that all people can express their gender, and have it recognized, without facing discrimination. Transgender and gender-nonconforming people are among the most vulnerable in the LGBT community.
Historically, the reported sex of a decedent on the death certificate has been determined by the medical certifier or coroner, and attested to as part of the decedent’s medical information. In cases when a decedent’s transgender identification differed from that indicated at birth or when a decedent’s physical characteristics did not correlate with the decedents self-identified gender, medical certifiers and coroners have been challenged in determining the appropriate sex to enter on a death record. Only a small percentage of self-identified transgender individuals undergo gender reassignment surgery, making it difficult to determine gender based on physical characteristics.
The State of California recently passed Assembly Bill 1577, the “Gender Identity on Death Certificates.” The Bill was inspired by events surrounding the death of Christopher Lee, a female-to-male transgender individual. When Mr. Lee died, the sex on his death certificate was labeled "female," despite the two decades he had lived as a man and a driver’s license that listed him as male. To avoid liability, funeral directors reportedly completed his death certificate based on anatomy, rather than on his legal or social gender.
Assembly Bill 1577 mirrors the bill before us today. Passage of Bill 21-0444 would allow the Council to be forward thinking in preventing the aforementioned situation from happening here in the District of Columbia. The bill provides clarity to persons filling out a death certificate and outlines guidelines to be followed in the event of a conflict. In essence, it is a straightforward piece of legislation that will enable us to respect the decedent’s identity and wishes.
The ACLU-DC has long been committed to protecting basic civil rights for LGBT people. We fully support Bill 21-0444 and look forward to the opportunity to work with the Council and the Mayor as it moves forward in the legislative process. Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am happy to answer any questions.
 "Gender identity or expression" means a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual's assigned sex at birth. (D.C. Code § 2-1401.02(12A)).
 AB-1577 Gender Identity on Death Certificates. State of California – Health and Human Services Agency, California Department of Public Health. Available at, http://www.cafda.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/15-07-AB-1577-Gender-Identity-on-Death-Certificates.pdf (last visited: Dec. 9, 2015).
 AB-1577 Certificates of death: gender identity. (2013-2014) http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB1577 (last visited: Dec. 9, 2015).
 California Assembly Passes bill to Respect Trans People’s Gender on Death Certificate. Advocate. Available at, http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2014/06/02/calif-assembly-passes-bill-respect-trans-people%E2%80%99s-gender-death(last visited: Dec. 9, 2015).