Most people want their appearance to best reflect who they are. From hair color to clothes to body shape, external characteristics are just as much a part of personal identity as they are about individual preference.
Unfortunately for Chicago native Karissa Rothkopf, her situation was more complicated than just a simple change in apparel. As a young boy, Rothkopf identified as a female.
In December 2007, Rothkopf was finally able to become the person she always felt she was, undergoing gender reassignment surgery in Thailand. She felt the one-step surgery offered there would be medically safer than two-step procedures here in the United States.
Upon returning to her home in Wisconsin, Rothkopf was able to amend her passport, driver's license, and Social Security records to reflect her current sex without any problems.
However, much to her dismay, the 'M' on her birth certificate remains.
The Illinois Department of Vital Records refuses to correct the document because the surgery took place outside the United States.
Since 1961, the state has allowed qualifying individuals to change the gender on an original birth certificate. But in 2004, the Vital Records department enacted a policy change which only allowed this option if the surgery was performed by a U.S.-licensed physician.
"We are following the Vital Records Act, and we are simply enforcing that," department spokesperson Melaney Arnold said, according to the Sun-Times. "The part that we are particularly looking at is the definition of 'physician'. 'Physician' means a person licensed to practice medicine in Illinois or any other state."
According to the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, between 1,600 and 2,000 patients undergo gender-related surgeries every year. Executive director Joel Ginsberg believes it is unfair for the state to discriminate against those who leave the country.
"Given that many, if not most, health plans will not reimburse for medically necessary transgender surgery procedures, many transgender people find it necessary to leave the country in order to get the services they need," Ginsberg explained.
Chicagoan Victoria Kirk, who also underwent recent gender reassignment surgery in Thailand, worries about the problems this will create in the future.
"Not only does this resistance mean that the State of Illinois will not recognize who I am, it could create significant problems in the future," Kirk said, reports the Chicago Tribune. "A document that says I am male puts me at risk of embarrassment, harassment, and possibly even physical violence."
The two Illinois-born women, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit against the state Tuesday, stating that the denials to change their birth certificates are a violation of state law.
When the ACLU asked the department why the policy change was put into place, they never received an explanation.
Both women knew they would experience some discrimination as a result of their decision.
"Knowing all this, it was still important to me to live as the person that I am, and to conform my body to that gender," said Kirk.
What do you think about the decision? Please add your comments below.