Prizm News / January 7, 2018 / By Bob Vitale

The Department of Health’s cruel refusal to let people correct their gender markers puts them at risk and diminishes our state.


Commentary by Bob Vitale

Dear Governor Kasich,


Like most Ohioans, I look at you differently today than I did during much of your eight years in office. After a combative start—remember that “if you’re not on the bus, we’ll run over you with the bus” line?—you’ve become a voice of reason in national politics.

That’s a welcome change for me. It’s probably driving a lot of your former allies nuts.

Over the past eight years, our LGBTQ Republican friends would tell us often that you really do accept and respect us but had to say and do certain things to keep your party’s base at bay.

Thus, in January 2011, you kept in place nondiscrimination policies for state employees that included sexual orientation but scratched out a group of people who face judgment, ridicule, hate and institutional bias every single day. It was just politics, we were told. You had to cast aside transgender Ohioans because you couldn’t get too far ahead of your socially conservative supporters.

But you really did support LGBTQ people.

In March 2013, we got our hopes up for a hot minute when you told a Cincinnati TV station that you supported civil unions, which at the time were the separate-but-equal legal alternative to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Your spokesman quickly walked back the comment by saying you thought civil unions were informal legal contracts, not a government policy. Others told us, though, that it was a trial balloon, shot down quickly by your fellow Republicans. Go easy on you, they told us. You were looking for a way to come around.

But you really did support LGBTQ people.

Then in July 2013, when a terminally ill Cincinnati man and his husband filed a federal lawsuit seeking not to change the world but simply to have the Ohio Department of Health recognize them as married on his soon-to-be-needed death certificate, you didn’t stand in the way as Attorney General Mike DeWine he fought them all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

You had been to the weddings of gay friends, we were told. You were up for re-election the next year, though, and you couldn’t make too many waves on social issues.

But you really did support LGBTQ people.

Many of us in the LGBTQ community were heartened last month when you added gender identity back into state government’s own nondiscrimination policies. It was a glimpse of the John Kasich people around the country have come to look to in the last two years as an antidote to the hateful, hysterical politics of our time.

I’m not Ellen DeGeneres speaking for the entire LGBTQ world, but I’ve come to look at you that way, too. While I still disagree with much or your political philosophy and many of your positions as governor, you have taught me and many others that there’s room for civility and kindness and respect in the space that divides us. In that regard, you’ve done Ohio proud.

But there’s one more thing you can do in your last week as governor that truly would  demonstrate the compassion you talk about so often.

Ohio is one of just three states that still refuses to let transgender people change the gender marker on their state-issued birth certificates. Even Alabama does. Even Mississippi does. Even Louisiana does. Even Texas does. Even Utah does.

Ohio, Kansas and Tennessee do not.

Here’s what that means, governor. It means transgender people, already disproportionately the victims of hate, violence and discrimination, are outed to complete strangers every time they must show birth certificates at a new job, at the BMV or any other place that asks for a birth certificate as a form of identification.

When three Ohioans filed a lawsuit over the issue last March, one woman talked about leaving an Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles office in tears after a clerk loudly pointed out that her birth certificate didn’t match her driver’s license. The same woman said she quit a job after coworkers learned of the gender listed on her birth certificate; one began calling her “the freak,” and another threatened to beat her up if she used the women’s restroom.

You’ve already acknowledged in your most recent executive order that state government must treat its employees—transgender and cisgender alike—”with the utmost respect and civility.”

Shouldn’t state government treat everyone that way? Shouldn’t we all?

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, it’s not state law that forbids the Ohio Department of Health from extending a simple dignity that 47 other states and the District of Columbia grant their citizens.

“Currently the Ohio Department of Health is refusing to issue birth certificates with updated gender markers, even when presented with a court order for gender change,” the center reports in materials last updated in September.

For six more days, the Ohio Department of Health is under your control. You can change the policy if you wish.

For the last two years, you’ve been a leader for Americans who want our nation’s politics to reflect the better angels of our nature. In the last month, your actions toward LGBTQ Ohioans finally began matching your compassionate words.

But there’s more work to do. Please don’t stop now.