Thursday, March 17, 2011

HB 2301: Standardize Court Ordered Changes of Gender

HB 2301 by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) would create a state-wide standard for courts to issue change of gender orders. Currently law recognizes that courts have the power to issue "change of sex" orders in Family Code Sec. 2.005. However the code gives no specific instruction on the nature of those changes and does not specifically lay out which public documents may be corrected to reflect a person's actual gender.

Without that specific instruction a patchwork of standards have popped up around the state. Some courts will issue a change of gender order based on a person's affidavit that the gender assigned to them on official state documents is inaccurate and does not reflect their true gender. Other courts require a physicians statement that the person's true gender is in conflict with that assigned by the state. Still others require a person applying to have their gender markers corrected to have undergone surgical intervention to align their assumed physical gender with their true gender and others refuse to issue change of gender orders at all.

Current administrative practice prohibits courts from correcting birth certificates to reflect a persons actual gender, but orders to amend identifying documents such as drivers licenses are somewhat common.

HB 2301 would allow courts to order identifying markers on state documents, including birth certificates, to correctly reflect a person's true gender and specifically prohibits courts from requiring corrective surgery as a prerequisite of the order. The bill does specify that a person applying for the order must present a physician's affidavit attesting to the conflict between their actual gender and that reported on their identifying documents.

The purpose of identifying documents like driver's licenses or birth certificates is to allow a person to prove that they are who they say they are. If a person is one gender, and lives their life as a person of that gender, and their identifying documents say that they are a different gender it can create difficulties when trying to do something as simple as cash a check.

The current mish-mash of court procedure creates a situation where those who have access to knowledgeable lawyers, or are well-connected, can get their gender markers corrected relatively easily, while those without money or connections often struggle to find the right court and file the right petition. The need for a standardized process is readily evident, but I question the exact construction of this bill. Requiring people petitioning the court for a change of gender order to provide a physician's affidavit creates a situation where trans-identified people are forced, once again, to rely on other people's opinion of their gender. Even if a physician is assumed to be an expert it is still insulting to require a third party to affirm a characteristic as personal as gender to be taken seriously. Imagine, for a second, that in order to prove your race, religion or sexual orientation to the court you were required to bring in a third party who agreed with you.

I've yet to meet a trans-identified person who was attempting to have their identifying documents corrected who wasn't absolutely certain of their gender. It is an unnecessary obstacle, and frankly insulting, to require the expense and inconvenience of obtaining a physician's affidavit for what is, essentially, correcting a typo.

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