Ilona Turner – Transgender Law Center, Ben Hudson – Gender Health Center, and Sajian Bernard

Assembly Bill 1121 (about) , authored by Assemblymember Toni Atkins and cosponsored by Transgender Law Center and Equality California, passed the Assembly Committee on Judiciary today. The bill will help ensure that transgender people have access to identity documents that accurately reflect the name and gender that correspond to their gender identity. The bill will next go to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“Having identity documents that accurately reflect who you are is vital in so many areas of every day life – from applying for a job to exercising our rights at the ballot box,” said Masen Davis, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center. “Many of us wouldn’t think twice when asked to show our ID, but this is a very serious issue for transgender people.” In 2011, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey showed that 44% of transgender people reported having been denied service, harassed, or assaulted when presenting identity documents that did not match their gender presentation.

Every year, Transgender Law Center gets calls from hundreds of people who need help navigating the complex and expensive processes required to change a person’s legal name and gender. While some states have administrative procedures that permit transgender people to amend the gender marker and/or name on their birth certificates, California still requires a court order as a prerequisite before the state’s Office of Vital Records will change the gender marker on a birth certificate. Court fees are currently $435 for a gender change or name change petition. AB 1121 will allow individuals to bypass the court and apply directly to the Office of Vital Records to amend a birth certificate. That will both streamline individuals’ access to corrected birth certificates and reduce the caseloads of overwhelmed courts.

AB 1121 would also make the name change process more private and affordable for transgender people, removing the requirement that a person publish a notice of the intended name change in the local newspaper for four weeks.

Sajian Bernard of Sacramento, who testified at the hearing, has been trying to legally change his name and gender for several years. He told the committee, “I’m really uncomfortable about the way that the newspaper notice is so public, basically announcing to everyone in the world that I’m trans. Whenever I’m outed as trans it’s humiliating, and could actually put me in danger.”

Ilona Turner, Legal Director at Transgender Law Center, concluded, “AB 1121 provides common-sense reforms to streamline an overly-complicated legal process. We are very pleased that the committee passed this bill, and we are incredibly grateful to Assemblymember Toni Atkins for authoring it.”