What would you do if you were unable to present your identity in all aspects of life? When you’re born in the state of Kansas, the sex displayed on your birth certificate is final, whether your gender aligns with it or not. This presents a significant problem for a local transgender woman, Nyla Foster. She is suing the state of Kansas Health and Vitals Department to gain her right to identify as her proper gender by changing the sex on her birth certificate. U-News sat down with Foster to talk about the lawsuit and what she hopes to accomplish.
Q: How has your inability to change your sex on your birth certificate made it difficult for you to obtain things in life such as employment, health care, housing, etc.?
A: More so, employment. Basically, I’m forced to out myself. It puts me in a situation, for instance, where they say, ‘We’re going to do a background check, what are your previous names?’ Well, I don’t put my previous names for certain reasons. It’s not because I’m trying to hide a criminal background. There have been times, for instance, when I didn’t expose what my name was prior to my legal name change, and that has hindered my employment. If your documents don’t line up, you have to go through all of these different channels.
Q: How have the people around you reacted to you suing the state Health and Vitals Department?
A: Everyone is really proud of me, even in my local neighborhood. My family members are proud, my community supports me. I haven’t received any threats of hate mail.
Q: How has your work in the LGBT+ community, especially with Kansas City Anti-Violence Project ( KCAVP) influenced your desire to pursue this lawsuit?
A: KCAVP is where I actually got my ‘wings.’ I started out as a client, an intern, a part-time worker, a full-time worker, up until a manager. That was where I actually learned how to fight for my community and who I am, and I am not to accept discrimination or prejudice. Prior to my involvement with KCAVP, I just dealt with things as they came in, and now I know it’s not right.
Q: What else do you wish to accomplish with this lawsuit?
A: If this actually goes through, everything goes well, and I’m able to amend this, I want other states to follow suit—other states that are not allowing trans-women to correct their birth certificates. I will be the ‘poster child’ if it means that another state will model this and more trans-women and trans-men won’t have to go through all this.
Q: Do you think your inability to change your sex and being a person of color makes discrimination happen more often in your life?
A: Yes, just the intersectionality of being black, trans, femme, dark-skin, all of those intersections coupled with not having documents that align subjects me to all kinds of discrimination. Being a person of color, I am a survivor of trauma. It’s kind of like, I have some kind of ‘paperwork trauma’ in a way. I can kind of correlate this birth certificate problem with slave records, in a way… basically, we are numbers and how we’re managed and how the gender binary says I have to do this and do that, and if not, then you’re not sure that you’re accounted for.
Q: Could you give me an example of ‘paperwork trauma’ that you’ve experienced?
A: For instance, my high school diploma and birth certificates are both from Kansas, and they are the two documents that I have not changed. So, when I go into colleges and I go to apply for jobs, they’re like ‘We want your high school diploma.’ I had a job that wanted my birth certificate, and I thought that they would think that I lied because I didn’t tell them that I had a previous name, and I got really uncomfortable. Trauma showed up. I checked out. I didn’t continue with the onboarding process because I knew that they would end up outing me.
Q: What are your thoughts on one’s ability to change the sex on their driver’s license but not their birth certificate, and which is more important, in your opinion, for going through life?
A: I think the most visible document is our driver’s license. I think it’s really important for all of your documents to align, especially in this day and age when we have identity theft. When going to institutions, these institutions are where structural racism and sexism live at, so you’re subjecting someone to suspicion. In addition to all the other traumas, suspicions and discrimination, you actually put out a piece of paper, and people may say ‘This is inconsistent,’ and it calls for a person who is now at their will and discretion. It becomes a spectacle, and then you are being re-traumatized and re-triggered. I would say the driver’s license is the most visible, but the overall alignment and consistency of gender, names and sex classification are important.
Q: How do you think the election of many new state officials will affect your lawsuit?
A: I think that it will work in my favor; I don’t think it will work against me. I think that the people that are stepping up in leadership, hopefully, they will see this case and they will advocate for me and be on my side. I’m quite confident in the state of Kansas, I’m actually surprised and impressed.