Asserting that California must lead the way on rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, lawmakers on Thursday announced a first-of-its-kind measure to streamline the process for changing gender on state identification and introduce an official “nonbinary” designation for those who do not identify as male or female.
Senate Bill 179, from Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would allow Californians to update their gender on birth certificates, driver’s licenses and identity cards without undergoing clinical treatment or getting a court order. It would also make California the first state in the country to legally recognize nonbinary as a gender.
“We have transgender people around this country who are living in fear as more and more states strip them of the most basic rights,” said Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, a co-author of the bill. “When they go backwards, we go forwards.”
Sasha Buchert of the Transgender Law Center said transgender people can face additional scrutiny, harassment and even assault when their identification does not reflect their preferred name and gender. She said many have difficulty getting jobs, are reluctant to travel and use cash instead of credit cards because they are afraid of being inadvertently outed.
“You can imagine the chilling effect that this has on people’s lives,” Buchert said.
SB 179 builds on a 2013 law, also carried by Atkins, that allowed transgender people to obtain a new birth certificate with proof of “clinically appropriate treatment.” It reflects the rapid progression of transgender visibility and acceptance in American culture – as well as the backlash that has sparked political battles like North Carolina’s HB2, prohibiting transgender people from using restrooms corresponding with their gender identity.
“It’s the evolution,” Atkins said.
Countries including Australia, New Zealand and Denmark already allow citizens to get passports with the nonbinary gender marker “X.” In recent months, a handful of Americans have also won court orders that allows them to change their legal gender to nonbinary.
The California Family Council, a conservative policy group that promotes the adoption of a “Christian worldview” in state law, criticized SB 179 for advancing a “falsehood” that “being male or female, or no gender at all is a choice each person must make, not a fact to celebrate and accept.”
“While we are sympathetic to the difficulties facing those experiencing gender dysphoria, we believe government documents need to reflect biological facts for identification and medical purposes,” CEO Jonathan Keller said in a statement.
Editor’s note: This post was updated at 4:53 p.m. with comments from the California Family Council.