California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed two important transgender rights measures into law. The Gender Non-Discrimination Act clarifies existing California law by listing “gender identity or expression” alongside other protected characteristics throughout the various discrimination statutes. Previously, these protections were in the definition of “gender” and employers, landlords and others who are covered by these laws were not always clear whether transgender people were protected.
The Vital Statistics Modernization Act streamlines the existing process for making a petition for a court order recognizing a change of gender and obtaining an updated birth certificate, bringing state vital statistics law in line with federal standards. This bill is similar to one passed in Vermont earlier in 2011. These two states represent a small but growing trend by state governments to recognize contemporary medical standards relating to when a person has made a gender transition that should be legally recognized. Previously, California law required showing of some type of surgery before updating gender, a discriminatory and unnecessary requirement. The U.S. Department of State modernized its policy relating to birth certificates for citizens born abroad, as well as for passports, in 2009. The Transgender Law Center and Equality California, among others, advocated for passage of the legislation.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force says:
Even though most forms of discrimination against transgender people have been illegal in California for many years, transgender people are still experiencing bias, discrimination and harassment. Discrimination is often triggered by not having ID that matches one’s identity. Strengthening the discrimination law, and modernizing the birth certificate law, are two important steps toward eliminating discrimination. We congratulate the Transgender Law Center and Equality California on these successes and thank Assemblymembers Toni Atkins and Bonnie Lowenthal for being the lead sponsors of this legislation.
Only 24 percent of transgender people have been able to update the gender on their birth certificate according to Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a groundbreaking study of nearly 6,500 transgender people’s experiences of discrimination in the U.S. released by the Task Force, along with the National Center for Transgender Equality earlier this year. The study also showed that discrimination was connected to lower incomes, unemployment, homelessness, as well as health disparities.