Brown moves CA forward

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday October 18, 2017
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Governor Jerry Brown moved California forward this week when he signed Senate Bill 179, the Gender Recognition Act, making it easier for transgender, intersex, and nonbinary people to obtain state-issued identity documents that correspond to their gender. Now, in addition to the usual "M" and "F" gender markers, there will be an "X." While the majority of people identify as male or female, a growing number identify as neither. SB 179 creates a nonbinary gender category on California birth certificates, drivers' licenses, identity cards, and gender-change court orders. Some California counties had already begun using a third category on the gender-change court orders. Significantly, SB 179 removes the outdated requirement that applicants obtain a physician's letter stating that they have undergone appropriate medical treatment and replaces it with self-attestation. This is a groundbreaking development.

California now becomes the second state, after Oregon, to create a nonbinary gender for state identification documents.

The National Center for Transgender Equality's last survey of trans people was published in 2015. As a recent USA Today article pointed out, nearly one-third of transgender people said they were harassed, assaulted, or denied service because their ID did not match their gender presentation, according to the NCTE survey, which drew 27,715 online respondents from all 50 states, U.S. territories, and U.S. military bases overseas. The Transgender Law Center, which co-sponsored SB 179 with Equality California, underscored this point. "We're asked for identification everywhere from banks to bars to airports," TLC Executive Director Kris Hayashi said in a statement, "and it can be devastating and even dangerous for nonbinary and transgender people to navigate life with an ID that doesn't reflect who they truly are." The survey also revealed that only 11 percent of trans people reported that all their personal identification documents recorded their name and gender consistent with their gender identity. SB 179 will help thousands of Californians.

The fate of SB 179 remained up in the air until Sunday, the last day Brown could sign or veto legislation. In a statement, lesbian state Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who co-authored the bill with gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), thanked the governor "for recognizing how difficult it can be for our transgender, nonbinary, and intersex family members, friends, and neighbors when they don't have an ID that matches their gender presentation." She also pointed out that California continues to play a leadership role in advancing LGBT civil rights.

Another Atkins bill that Brown signed, SB 310, makes it easier for transgender people incarcerated in state prisons or county jails to change their legal name or gender marker. The Name and Dignity Act is similar to policies San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy adopted locally and requires correctional officers to use their new name and pronoun once a person has completed a name and/or gender change.

Enacting bills like SB 179 and SB 310 - Brown also signed Wiener's bills modernizing criminal penalties for HIV transmission (SB 239) and creating an LGBT seniors bill of rights (SB 219) - also speaks to the effectiveness of our gay and lesbian state lawmakers. LGBT legislators have been consistent over the years in developing bills that solve problems faced by the community, and have highlighted issues that might otherwise have been overlooked by straight colleagues or allies. These particular bills needed - and received - support from straight allies, but having out lawmakers in positions to create positive social or legal change is a great benefit to California's LGBT community. And we've been fortunate to have gay-friendly governors for the past couple of decades. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, who vetoed same-sex marriage legislation, signed other important bills benefitting the LGBT community.

Transgender, intersex, and nonbinary people are making their voices heard like never before. While many often face unique challenges, the NCTE survey also showed a marked increase in acceptance by family members, colleagues, classmates, and other people in their lives. As more people come out, states can make their lives easier by easing barriers to securing government IDs that reflect today's complex society.