Lawmakers in Utah will reintroduce legislation making it easier for trans people to update their birth certificate to be consistent with their gender identity.
The proposed bill would formalize the process by which transgender Utahns can amend the name and gender marker on their birth documents. Although trans people can apply for a change through the state courts, a judge has the right to refuse the request. Most are accepted, but the Utah Supreme Court is currently hearing a case in which plaintiffs were denied documents consistent with their lived identity.
Angie Rice, one of the two co-plaintiffs in that case, said that having paperwork which doesn’t match an individual’s gender expression can cause major problems.
Rice told KSTU, Salt Lake City’s local Fox affiliate, that she’s “had difficult times in airports” as a result. She added that she constantly fears what will happen if she pulls out “a credit card out in a restaurant and it has a male name on it, or [she gets] stopped at a traffic light and it doesn’t appear to be what [they] see.”
But an earlier version of the legislation, known as State Bill 138, died in the Utah Senate this February following a 10 to 16 vote.
The legislation was opposed by social conservatives who felt it went too far in recognizing trans identities. Surprisingly, it was also met with opposition from local transgender activists who argued it didn’t go far enough.
One of the more controversial provisions of the bill mandated that applicants be over the age of 18 before they lobby to amend their birth certificate. That would leave out trans youth, a population that faces a high risk of suicidal ideation when they are not affirmed in their gender identities.
SB 138 also stipulated that updated birth certificates would indicate they had been amended—effectively placing an asterisk next to a transgender person’s identity.
But bill sponsor Todd Weiler, a Cross Woods Republican, plans to go back to the drawing board next year. The Senator reportedly plans on lowering the age limit for changing one’s birth certificate to 15 or 16, meaning that young people would have the chance to do so before applying for a driver’s license.
“The fact of the matter is the legislature has never weighed in on this,” Sen. Weiler told KSTU on Monday. “We’ve kind of just let everything happen without any policy, without any law.”
LGBTQ advocates have come out in support of the bill’s reintroduction.
“Currently, transgender people in Utah play judge roulette when they seek to have their gender markers changed,” said Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams in a statement to INTO. “Senator Weiler is seeking a uniform solution to give guidance to the judiciary. It is critical that lawmakers consider the rights and liberties of transgender people when crafting laws that impact their lives.”
“We’ve had some success in Utah to this end, but it still requires greater education with our legislators,” he added. “Equality Utah will be working with Senator Weiler to ensure that the proposed legislation protects the dignity of all trans Utahns.”
The Transgender Legal Defense Education Fund (TLDEF) also expressed support for the legislation—with some reservations.
Calling the ability to self-determine one’s identity a “fundamental human right,” Name Change Program Director A.C. Dumlao told INTO that “gender marker changes should be the business of transgender individuals themselves, not a third party.”
“Without proper identity documents, transgender individuals face discrimination at nearly every turn from applying for jobs to getting enrolled in school, to accessing public resources,” Dumlao said in a statement. “Without proper identification, transgender people are exposed to further discrimination, harassment, and violence.”
In a survey from the National Center for Trans Equality, only nine percent of respondents had all their documents amended. More than three-quarters of transgender Utahns (78 percent) had no documents that reflect their gender identity.
A third of transgender people in Utah (32 percent) say they have been harassed, attacked, or denied services for not having an updated birth certificate or ID.
But in addressing that problem, Dumlao urged Weiler to drop the requirement that trans birth certificates be listed as amended, calling it “an unnecessary disclosure.” It could also serve to out transgender people in their schools and workplaces, as well as in any other situations in which they have to present documentation.
Although a trans rights bill might appear a tough sell in the heart of Mormon country, it wouldn’t be the first pro-LGBTQ legislation to become law.
The Beehive State became the first red state to enact a law securing greater rights for queer and trans people following the passage of a 2015 nondiscrimination bill banning bias on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and employment.
But like SB 138, that legislation was criticized by many in the LGBTQ community as watered down. A carve-out in the bill permitted people of faith to discriminate in the name of their religious beliefs.
Weiler’s bill is set to be discussed next week in the Judiciary Interim Committee of the Utah Legislature.
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