Thursday, June 10, 2010

State Department Makes Changing Gender Markers Easier, But What About Texas?

The State Department announced new guidelines today that will make it easier for Transgender Americans to have passports that reflect their gender identity. Under the new guidelines someone who is applying to change the gender marker on their passport must present “a certification from an attending medical physician that the applicant has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition”. Previously, applicants were required to present proof of genital surgery (usually called sexual reassignment surgery (SRS)).

Many trans identified people choose not to have genital surgery. There are a number of reasons for this choice ranging from the costs of surgery, to concerns about its efficacy, to simply not needing the surgery to bring their bodies in line with their gender identity. This is a very personal decision and it’s great news that the federal government has decided to butt out.

But what about in Texas? Technically it is not legal in Texas for a transgender person to have their birth certificate altered, although a few brave judges have been known to issue the order. Changing the gender marker on driver’s licenses requires sexual reassignment surgery, similar to the old passport guidelines. (Again, there are some judges who will issue the order without proof of SRS, but this requires hiring a lawyer who knows which judges to go to - something that many transgender people can not afford.)

During the last two legislative sessions Rep. Garnett Coleman has introduced legislation that would create guidelines very similar to the new passport guidelines for changing both birth certificates and driver's licenses (81st session HB 4297, 80th session HB 1761). Representatives Alma Allen, Raphael Anchia, Lon Burnam and Jessica Farrar have all supported those efforts but the bills have never gotten out of committee (in fact they’ve never gotten a hearing).

One reason is that the Public Health Committee, who would hold the hearing on this bill, is currently chaired by Republican Lois Kolkhurst, and was formely chaired by Republican Diane White Delisi. Neither or whom were particularly inclined to grant a hearing.

The other reason is that the bills sponsor, Garnett Coleman, is a very busy man. Coleman has a reputation for filing more bills than average (he filed 118 last session). Coleman has a wonderful agenda of pro-LGBT bills, but he files so many bills that the vast majority do not get a hearing, let alone make it out of committee.

Most legislation gets passed as an amendment. Staffers watch the bills that are debated on the House floor and look for ones that cover similar subject material to a bill their boss is carrying. Then they point it out to their boss so it can be amended onto the bill being debated. I’m certain that Coleman’s staff does the same thing, but with 118 bills to watch out for it’s simply not possible for them to catch every opportunity.

How do we fix this? The queer community needs to make it clear to our allies in the legislature that this bill, and other pro-LGBT bills, need to be a priority. We have to stop being satisfied with simply having our bills introduced and insist that they be fought for.

The recent change in the State Department Guidelines provides an ideal opportunity to bring this issue up with our representatives. Please call or write your representatives (or better yet, make an appointment to go see them) and tell them that state law should reflect federal when it comes to gender markers.