Transgender People and the Social Security Administration: Name and Gender Marker Change

Posted by on Dec 18, 2013 in Transgender Rights

Once a probate court has granted a transgender client’s petition for name change, a common next visit is to the Social Security Administration to change the name and gender marker in the Social Security Administration’s records.

To change your name on your Social Security card, you will need to submit an Application for a Social Security Card, proof of your identity, and citizenship or immigration status, as well as acceptable proof of the name change.

Identity can be proven via a document showing your name, identifying information and photograph, such as a U.S. driver’s license, State-issued non-driver’s identification card; or U.S. passport.  An employer, school, or United States military identification card or health insurance card may also be acceptable.

A U.S. birth certificate, U.S. Consular Report of Birth, U.S. passport, Certificate of Naturalization, or Certificate of Citizenship are all acceptable proof of immigration status.

In general, Social Security will accept an original or certified copy of the probate court’s order as proof of the name change.

Social Security reserves the right to request to see “other documents showing your old and new names,” so we often advise clients to bring in multiple forms of identification in the event it is requested.

The application and original or certified copies submitted via mail or in person at your local Social Security branch office.  In either case your documents will be returned to you.

Once your name is updated with Social Security, it is possible to have your name updated on your Connecticut driver’s license.

You can apply for a name change separately from, or together with, applying for a gender change.  Social Security card only lists your name and Social Security number – not your gender.  However, Social Security maintains information in its computer records on everyone who has a Social Security number, including name, date of birth, and gender.

Social Security benefits do not depend on your gender, and determinations related to marriage and family relationships are not based on what gender is in your record. However, Social Security gender data is still used for identity verification by some third-party organizations.  According to the National Center for Transgender Equality:

SSA administers several programs used to verify a person’s identity for purposes of employment, applying for public benefits,
or other purposes. Through these various programs, SSA compares personal data submitted by a business or government agency with its own programs and reports whether the data matches.

Some of these systems include gender among the personal data that is submitted and matched, while other systems don’t include gender. The largest system used by private employers, the Social Security Number Verification System (SSNVS), eliminated gender in 2011. As a result, it is now very rare for employees to be outed on the job by their SSA gender marker. However, some systems used by state government agencies still match gender against SSA records. If a person’s recorded gender with the submitting agency does not match SSA records, SSA may report this back to the submitting agency.

In June 2013, Social Security announced a new policy for updating Social Security records to reflect a person’s gender identity. Under the new policy, a transgender person can change their gender on their Social Security records by submitting either government-issued documentation reflecting a change, or a certification from a physician confirming that they have had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.  This policy was a victory for transgender rights as the policy it replaced required documentation of sex reassignment surgery.

A gender marker change requires many of the same documents as a name change: an Application for a Social Security Card, proof of identity, and citizenship or immigration status.  Additionally, as is indicated above, an applicant must provide proof of gender.

According to Social Security:

You need one of the following documents; a full-validity, 10-year U.S. passport showing the new sex; a state-issued amended birth certificate showing the new sex; a court order directing legal recognition of change of sex; or a medical certification of appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition in the form of an original letter from a licensed physician).  The document must have enough biographical data (e.g., name and date of birth) to clearly identify you.

With respect to the question of what constitutes “appropriate clinical treatment,” the National Center for Transgender Equality writes:

The new policy recognizes that people’s medical needs vary, and that treatment options must be decided by health care professionals on an individual basis. You are entitled to an updated gender marker if you have had the clinical treatment determined by your health care providers to be appropriate, in your individual case, to facilitate gender transition.

The Social Security Program Operations Manual System Guide provides additional clarification on what a physician’s letter should include.