Last week, the California legislature sent SB179 to Governor Brown’s desk. The bill, called the Gender Recognition Act, establishes a nonbinary gender marker option on state identity documents and streamlines the gender marker change process for everyone. On the heels of similar efforts in Washington DC and Oregon, this is an exciting step for TGNC people in California and a sorely needed symbolic win for the larger movement. With the onslaught of brutal federal attacks on marginalized communities demanding constant attention and vigorous response, it can be easy to gloss over or even miss hugely important work at the state level. But if you’ve followed recent developments in Texas and California – two states with legislatures in session long after most others around the country gaveled out – you’ve seen a lot to be optimistic about. Last month I covered the incredible collaborative organizing in Texas that fended off a multi-headed hydra of bathroom bills. Today I want to provide some background on these ID measures and this positive news out of California.

I’D if I could!

Despite their vital importance, updated IDs can be incredibly difficult to get – the National Center for Transgender Equality’s US Trans Survey found that 67% of respondents didn’t have a single ID or record recognizing their preferred gender. Identity document practices vary wildly from state to state, document to document, and too often even from DMV clerk to DMV clerk. On top of systemic impediments that disproportionately affect trans communities (for example, how easy it is to get to a state agency office while they’re open, or how much the agency charges for the ID), the requirements to update a gender marker may be arcane, tough to find, or outright hostile. Some states require a combative court appearance and a letter from a bottom surgeon to update a birth certificate, while others don’t allow trans people to update their birth certificates at all. And even once you’ve got one document sorted out, the process for changing the gender marker on another can be completely different.

If you’re nonbinary and prefer neither an M nor an F on your records, before this summer this shaky infrastructure failed you pretty much completely and pretty much across the board. While there has been some success using the courts to gain access to nonbinary identification, the judicial process is a daunting, lonely slog compared to consistent structural approaches, and some judges won’t even issue court orders designating nonbinary genders at the end of it. Thankfully, nonbinary gender markers are finally seeing some policy progress.

Passing the (at)test.

Most states – still, in 2017 – require a health care practitioner to attest, often with ultra-specific wording, that someone has received some kind of treatment related to gender transition before they’ll update gender markers. This process has some very obvious flaws:

  • Many TGNC people do not need or want some kinds of medical treatment.
  • Many TGNC people who may want certain medical treatment can’t access it – they may have health issues that preclude it, or they may not be able to afford it, or they may be denied care altogether by their provider or insurance.
  • This kind of gatekeeping guarantees that many TGNC people – especially those facing compounding forms of oppression – simply won’t have accurate documents.
  • People themselves are the ultimate authorities on their genders – not health care providers, and especially not providers in a health care system with such a poor track record on trans and intersex competence.

For these reasons, self-attestation – just claiming your own gender on a form and the state taking you at your word – is the most modern, accessible, and accurate way to establish someone’s gender.

California, come on down!

Washington DC and Oregon began issuing licenses with “X,” “M” and “F” options based on self-attestation on June 26th and July 1st of this year, and Oregon’s HB2673 brings self-attestation to the update process for the state’s birth certificates starting in 2018. Although California will be a little late to the party, it’s bringing friends – nearly 40 million of them at last count, according to census data. SB179 will sweep aside costly, outdated hoops and stumbling blocks for huge swath people who want to update their gender markers on their records. The bill creates a nonbinary option for licenses and birth certificates and establishes a self-attestation standard for updating both, doing away with physician letter requirements and streamlining the process for everyone.

Remember: some politics is local.

It’s easy to lose track of advances like these right now in the chaos, but recognizing progress is an important part of a healthy political diet. If you had forgotten that Oregon and DC are already issuing licenses with nonbinary gender markers, or hadn’t heard that CA is ready to join them, that’s certainly understandable. But as much as any response to the latest ugly federal action, this state work is a challenge to the administration’s agenda. The tangible positive impact that these measures have on people’s day-to-day lives is an energizing counterbalance to the foreboding general environment of 2017 and model of how to move forward.

Next steps.

If you’re excited about SB179 and state-level policy momentum, that’s fantastic!

If you live in California, consider calling Gov. Brown’s office to let him know how and why updated identity documents are important to you! If you live somewhere where nonbinary gender markers aren’t on the horizon, or where TGNC people still face outmoded, onerous requirements to gain access to appropriate ID, consider joining a state or local advocacy organization to help with efforts like these in your community.

If you’re interested in updating your own identity documents, TLC’s ID Please guide and NCTE’s ID Documents Center are thorough resources for learning and navigating state and federal name and gender marker change processes.

This post, by TLC Policy Coordinator Corinne Green, is part of our Policy Desk series