SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – In an effort to remove identity barriers for transgender Californians, Gov. Jerry Brown late Sunday approved adding a third gender option to driver’s licenses and birth certificates.
Under Senate Bill 179, California will join Oregon as the only states to allow residents to be identified by a nonbinary gender marker on their driver’s license and becomes the first to allow a third option on birth certificates. The measure also changes state law to allow people to apply for gender changes without providing judges with proof of undergoing gender transition treatment.
State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, applauded Brown for updating and streamlining state identity laws.
“I want to thank Gov. Brown for recognizing how difficult it can be for our transgender, nonbinary and intersex family members, friends and neighbors when they don’t have an ID that matches their gender presentation,” Atkins said in a statement. “The Gender Recognition Act will eliminate unnecessary stress and anxiety for many Californians, and it exemplifies the leadership role that our state continues to take in LGBTQ civil rights.”
Supporters argued SB 179 removes “onerous and unnecessary barriers” and that it takes power over gender-identity decisions from doctors and judges and gives it to individuals.
Under current law, gender change applicants must appear in court and submit a physician’s letter certifying that they have received treatment.
“Too many times, I have smiled to mask my discomfort while police officers, doctors, nurses, teachers and so many others have inspected and interrogated me, trying to determine if I’m a boy or girl,” said Tone Lee-Bias, a nonbinary 20-year-old from Sacramento. “It’s a relief knowing that I can finally get an ID that reflects who I truly am.”
The Legislature passed the measure in September on a party-line vote, and it takes effect January 2019. Supporters included the Transgender Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of California and the Anti-Defamation League. State fiscal committees estimate it will cost the Department of Motor Vehicles $880,000 to provide a third gender option on driver’s licenses and ID cards.
Opponents argued the bill would violate federal standards for issuing sources of identification and could increase identity theft and fraud. Just two organizations registered opposition, the Catholics for the Common Good Institute and the California Family Council.
Brown also signed a bill that will allow inmates to petition state courts for name and gender changes without approval from jails and prisons officials. Inmates must currently receive written approval from their parole agents or probation officers in order to submit name change petitions to the court.
The Transgender Law Center called Senate Bill 310 – written by currently and formerly incarcerated transgender people – “groundbreaking.”
“For too long, California prisons and jails have denied the humanity and dignity of transgender people in their custody by refusing to recognize who they truly are,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center. “This law, developed by currently and formerly incarcerated transgender people, is a welcome step towards addressing the severe discrimination transgender people face in prison and upon release from prison.”
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