On February 14th, in Sacramento, SB 310 was introduced by Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and backed by a coalition of organizations including the Transgender, Gender-Variant, Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), the St. James Infirmary and Transgender Law Center (TLC) through the Women’s Policy Institute. SB 310, or the Name and Dignity Act for Incarcerated Trans People, would ease the process by which currently incarcerated people are able to change their legal name and gender on identification documents.

Across California, and nationally, transgender people are becoming incarcerated in prisons and county jails at alarming rates. Transgender people face immense violence and discrimination as a result of their gender identity and are often pushed out of traditional housing, employment and healthcare. As a result, transgender people often find ways to survive through criminalized street economies. This is in addition to transgender people, specifically transgender women of color, who are criminalized by law enforcement for existing, through what transgender activist Monica Jones has coined “walking while trans.”

“This bill will help restore some amount of dignity to the transgender people who are currently locked up across the state of California. It is important, especially during this current political moment, that our folks inside prisons and jails can finally claim their name and gender as they are,” stated Janetta Johnson, Executive Director of TGIJP (Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project).

Post inauguration of a Trump administration, transgender people across the country have been moving with urgency to change their legal name and gender in anticipation of pre-existing legal protections being stripped away through process of immediate executive orders. At the time of this release, the Trump administration has already removed Title IX transgender protections that were instituted during the Obama administration. Unfortunately, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals who are incarcerated have not had formal access to legally modify their name and gender through the Superior court.

Currently, people in prison seeking to formally change their legal name and gender on identification documents have to navigate requests through the discretion of the warden of the facility and additional administrative offices for approval. To date, transgender prisoners have been unsuccessful in achieving name and gender change through this process unless through additional litigation. Historically, this process has created substantial delays and excessive barriers towards gender affirmation, whereas non-incarcerated transgender people are able to access name and gender changes through the discretion of a judge within the Superior court. SB 310 allows transgender people inside of prisons and jails across California the same access to submit their legal requests to the courts as people who are not imprisoned, in order to have their name and gender legally changed.

“This bill is important is for several reasons. For me, I am paroling soon and it would be so much to deal with once I parole to do the whole name and gender marker change. By having this taken care of prior to my departure, the parole office and Department of Motor Vehicles will already have this information handy,” stated a currently incarcerated member of TGIJP, one of the organizations of the coalition co-sponsoring the bill.

Supporters of the policy argue that completing this process prior to release will ease reentry and can reduce recidivism. Additionally,  SB 310 is vital to those transgender people who will remain in prison for a long or indefinite amount of time. Misgendering and misnaming transgender people in custody has detrimental impacts on a person’s health and well-being. Allowing for transgender people to legally change their name and gender would force the prison system to acknowledge transgender peoples’ identities – a small respite for people experiencing intense daily violence in custody.

“Transgender and gender nonconforming people in prisons and jails face significant barriers when seeking legal name and gender changes,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center. “This loss of dignity is harmful to their safety and well-being. SB 310 will help remove unnecessary barriers so transgender people in incarceration can be legally recognized as who they are – both on paper and in their daily lives – and are set up to successfully navigate life outside of prisons and jails.”