Transgender Californians celebrate streamlined name & gender changes

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The final piece of California Assembly Bill 1121 wet into effect July 1. The bill was sponsored by Transgender Law Center and Equality California, and authored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). It was signed into law by Governor Brown in October 2013.

The first phase of the law, which went into effect January 1, made it easier for transgender people born in California to obtain an accurate birth certificate by removing the requirement that they present a court-ordered gender change in order to amend a gender marker on a birth certificate. Instead, they now have the option to just submit a form and a doctor’s letter directly to the state Department of Public Health along with a $23 fee.

Under the second part of the law, which becomes effective today, those seeking a name change to better match their gender identity are no longer required to publish the change in a local newspaper. Also effective today, those seeking to obtain a name change for purposes of gender transition will no longer be required to attend an in-person court hearing unless another person challenges the name change request. These new protections were created to improve the safety and privacy needs of transgender people seeking to obtain accurate and consistent identity documents.

“This bill created a new administrative option for transgender people seeking to amend the gender and/or name on a California birth certificate, eliminating the unnecessary interim step of getting a court order before the State Registrar can change a birth certificate,” said Atkins. “This part of the new law will also remove the expensive and burdensome newspaper publication requirement for transgender people seeking legal name changes and would provide that a name change that is uncontested must be granted without a hearing.”

In 2011, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey showed that 44 percent of transgender people reported having been denied service, harassed or assaulted when presenting identity documents that did not match their gender presentation. Transgender Law Center receives hundreds of calls annually from transgender people experiencing challenges in changing their name and gender on identity documents.

“Today marks another step toward full equality for transgender Californians,” said Ilona Turner, Legal Director of Transgender Law Center. “These simple administrative changes are going to make a huge difference for transgender people who continue to face unfair and burdensome barriers to being able to live authentically and free from discrimination.”

Sara Angel is an 18-year-old college student living in Toronto. Growing up bi-nationally, she often worried about traveling with documents that didn’t match her authentic gender. Once, she was detained for several hours of questioning at the border because agents were confused about her appearance not matching her name and gender marker. “I’m always worried about travel,” she said. “Changing my identity documents will help me travel more safely and with a peace of mind that I truly cherish. I’m so excited it will be easier and less expensive to achieve this.”

“AB 1121 is an important step toward protecting the privacy of transgender people and removing unnecessary governmental burdens,” said Rick Zbur, EQCA executive director-elect. “We were proud to co-sponsor this legislation with the Transgender Law Center and applaud Speaker Toni Atkins for her leadership.”

A follow-up bill authored by Speaker Atkins and co-sponsored by Transgender Law Center and Equality California, the Respect After Death Act, would require death certificates to reflect the decedent’s gender identity. This bill passed out of the Assembly with bipartisan support and awaits consideration in the Senate.

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