By Eva Posner
Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed a bill this week streamlining the process of changing identity documents to reflect the gender identity of transgender people.
Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins of San Diego sponsored the bill, AB 1121.
“Transgender people are entitled to have their official documents and their legal name reflect their true identity without a burdensome and expensive process that endangers their personal safety,” Atkins said in a statement released by her office. “This bill improves the lives of transgender Californians because it creates a simpler, more affordable, and safer process. I am very pleased that Governor Brown agrees and that he has signed my bill.”
The purpose of the new law, which will go into effect July 1, 2014, is to make the process for name and identification changes for transgender people more economical and efficient.
Transgender is the term for a person who is living a gender that is different from the one they were born with. The medical field calls it Gender Dysphoria, and prescribes treatments including surgery, medication, and mental health support to help the person transition physically so that their gender identities and bodies match.
According to a National Transgender Discrimination Survey in 2011, 44 percent of transgender people reported being harassed, denied service, or assaulted when presenting identity documents that did not match their gender presentation.
“ID is required so often that most people take it for granted,” said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, a Bay Area based policy and advocacy group that cosponsored the bill. “You pull out your ID to rent a car, board a train or a plane, even to swipe your credit card at the store. It’s hard to navigate through life if your identity documents don’t accurately reflect who you are.”
The process for name and gender change on birth certificates and identification cards has been in place in California since the 1970s. However, until the new law fully takes effect next summer, it is an expensive and time-consuming process, making it particularly difficult for low-income residents.
The process currently requires publishing name changes in a local newspaper for four weeks. This can get pricey, costing up to $800 dollars in small town papers, according to Davis. Another $435 goes to petition and court costs, because the name and gender change requires a court order.
The new law will take the process out of the courts and make it administrative, allowing individuals to apply directly to the Office of Vital Records. It will also waive the requirement to publish an intended name change.
This can help with safety and privacy concerns, said Davis. He noted that it can sometimes be dangerous and humiliating for transgendered people to be outed.
“No one should have to put themselves in danger to be who they are,’ he said.
Amanda Morgan, 33, a resident of College Area, has advocated for this policy change for over a year.
It took Morgan a year to get her identity documents changed to accurately represent her life. She published her intent for name change in the La Jolla Light, which cost $100. She was able to get the court fee waived because she was unemployed at the time, but she knows that it’s not possible for everyone to do so.
“I am hoping (the law) helps the trans community become more visible,” said Morgan. “Not everyone has the resources to live their truth.”
Morgan, whose gender identity became legal in July, also expressed hope that AB1121 will make it easier for transgender people to gain employment. She had difficulty pursuing a job for a telemarketing firm Downtown because she wasn’t legally a woman.
“Although I lived 24/7 as a woman, they found some kind of HR loophole because my identity documents did not match my identity,” she said. “People tend to think, ‘Oh, you’re just playing dress up. This isn’t real.’”
There is also a confidence that comes from having all the paperwork reflect your reality, said Morgan.
“Although San Diego is progressive in a lot of ways, most people just aren’t educated on this issue,” said Morgan. “Now when I go to the grocery store or the night club, I don’t have to worry about running into the mismatched identity issues. I wake up every morning and know that I am living my truth.”