This week a milestone bill making it easier for trans people to change the name and gender on their birth certificates passed the Colorado House of Representatives. But one thing is likely to stand in the way of it becoming law: Republican leadership in the Senate.
House Bill 18-1046 would waive the requirement that transgender individuals get a court order before updating their birth certificates to reflect their lived identities, as well as the requirement of gender-affirming surgery prior to the request being granted. Instead applicants would be allowed to present a note from a medical provider.
Also known as the Birth Certificate Modernization Act, HB 18-1046 passed the House on Tuesday following a 37-27 vote.
Bill sponsor Rep. Dominic Moreno (D-Commerce City) tells INTO the current process is “burdensome and intrusive,” as well as prohibitively expensive for a population which overwhelmingly faces unemployment and poverty.
“The process of a name change requires a notice be printed in the newspaper,” Moreno says in a phone interview, explaining that the requirement results in many trans people being outed to their families and communities. He adds that applicants are then ordered to appear in a courtroom “full of strangers and explain why they’d like their actual gender identity to be represented in their documents.”
In a press release, Daniel Ramos, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group One Colorado, claims these policies “fail to protect the privacy” of trans people in the state. It could also open them up to harassment or violence.
Existing standards additionally mandate applicants undergo some form of gender confirmation surgery, which supporters of the bill says is a serious barrier to entry for many individuals. Trans people are twice as likely to be unemployed as the average person and four times more likely than their cisgender peers to have a household income under $10,000.
Even for those with the privilege of steady employment, affording affirming surgeries may be out of reach. The full cost of transitioning typically falls somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000, and many insurance companies won’t subsidize these procedures.
Unsurprisingly, just one-fifth of trans people across the U.S. have been able to update all their documentation.
Having outdated identification further exacerbates the widespread discrimination trans people already experience, advocates claim. Jay Wu, a spokesperson for the National Center for Trans Equality, tells INTO that “30 percent of respondents from Colorado who show an ID with a name or gender that does not match their gender presentation were verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or assaulted. “
Wu claims in an email that HB 18-1046 would help ensure trans people are able to “fully participate in society, just like anyone else.”
Longtime activist Sheri Proctor, who has been lobbying for the bill’s passage since it was first introduced, has experienced these challenges first-hand. Just days before starting a new job, her wallet was stolen with her Social Security card and driver’s license inside. In the state of Colorado, all new hires must present valid ID to comment employment. All Proctor had left was her birth certificate to show.
“That outed me,” she tells INTO over the phone. “Now I happen to work for a very affirming organization, and it wasn’t a problem. But that’s not always the case. As a matter of fact, it’s rarely the case.”
HB 18-1046 would bring Colorado in line with California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington, as well as Washington, D.C. These 12 states have each waived the requirements for surgery and a court order prior to changing one’s birth certificate.
As policies vary from state to state, many localities still lag far behind. Tennessee does not allow trans people to change the gender listed on their birth certificates at all.
Moreno’s bill has bipartisan support in both the Colorado House of Representatives and the Senate, but its passage in the 2018 legislative session may prove a tall order. Previous versions of HB 18-1046 sailed through the House three years running, but each stalled in the Senate due to Republican obstruction.
Rather than allowing HB 18-1046 to receive a full vote in its chambers, Proctor claims leadership in the Republican-controlled Senate sends it to the Veterans and Affairs Committee, which is widely referred to as the “Kill Committee.”
“[The committee’s] job is to kill any bill that comes before it,” she says. “That’s what they do.”
Although Moreno declined to speculate as to why Senate lawmakers oppose the bill, he says there have been concerns raised that individuals may exploit the legislation by fraudulently amending their birth certificate. Opponents believe people “who want to change the gender marker on their birth certificate are pretending to be something they’re not.”
Others argue that HB 18-1046 would permit sexual predators to target women and children in public restrooms, a widely debunked myth put forward in support of anti-trans bathroom bills like North Carolina’s quasi-repealed House Bill 2.
Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs) claims vulnerable youth “should not have to worry about sharing restrooms with a cross-dressing man who pretends to be a woman,” as the Colorado Springs Independent reported in 2016. The conservative also believes trans people are mentally ill and that state lawmakers should not support their “confusion.”
The Democrats calls these arguments “incredibly insensitive.”
“It does not recognize the lived experience of transgender people today,” Moreno says, adding: “This is, for me, a civil rights issue. Trans people know who they are in their hearts and in their minds and it’s time for the government to recognize who they are, too.”
The legislator says he will continue to introduce HB 18-1046 every year until it becomes law.
The bill is likely to be squashed for the fourth consecutive year, but Proctor remains optimistic about its future. The Senate is tipped just slightly toward the Republican Party: 18 to 16. Cheri Jahn, the legislature’s sole Independent, frequently votes in favor of progressive issues. If Democrats are able to flip one seat in the 2018 election, it would prevent conservatives from being able to block a full vote on the proposal.
“We do have a number of Republicans who are in favor of this bill, so if we could just get it to the Senate floor, I’m certain this would pass,” Proctor says.
Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images