Debevoise Secures Significant Policy Change on Behalf of Transgender and Non-Binary New Yorkers

7 August 2020

Debevoise and Plimpton LLP has prevailed on behalf of lawyer and advocate Charlie Arrowood of Arrowood Law in a pro bono effort to change a significant policy of the New York State Department of Health’s (“DOH”) Bureau of Vital Records, which will now allow transgender and non-binary parents to easily correct their names and parental designations on their children’s birth certificates.

DOH’s previous policy was to categorically deny requests from a parent wanting to make these changes unless they obtained a court order, creating an often insurmountable hurdle for many families. Under DOH’s new policy, in addition to permitting these fundamental changes, form affidavits will be available to applicants to expedite the correction process.

Beginning in November 2019, Debevoise repeatedly requested that DOH make Arrowood’s children’s birth certificates accurate and change its policy. DOH declined to do so. In July 2020, Debevoise informed DOH of its intent to litigate, at which point DOH agreed to resolve the dispute, correct the birth certificates and change its policy.

Arrowood expressed relief that the state made the change when it did. “Most parents might not realize how this impacts families like mine. As school registration for my children approached this year, I lived with the fear and anxiety of presenting inaccurate documents on behalf of my children. Basic life events like this required me to disclose my trans identity each and every time. Having inaccurate documentation puts trans and non-binary people at risk of discrimination and violence.”

Debevoise partner Susan Reagan Gittes adds, “This was not a complicated question to us; we asked the state to update its policies based on what the law says, and the interests of New Yorkers in having accurate documentation. Charlie’s case will help so many New York families, in addition to their own, achieve basic recognition. This too often gets overlooked. We are pleased that DOH changed its policy without litigation. We are elated with the result and feel privileged to have worked with Charlie who is a wonderful client and advocate for their community.”

The Debevoise team is led by partner Susan Reagan Gittes, and includes associates Marisa Taney and Joshua Goldman.