Good news for Virginia’s trans and non-binary community — bills allowing non-binary gender markers on state IDs and changing of name and gender markers on birth certificates are headed to the governor’s desk.
Being transgender or non-binary in our less-than-accepting society can lead to a lot of difficulties, but two bills currently awaiting Governor Northam’s signature will make at least one aspect of trans and non-binary Virginians’ lives a little easier: getting legal identification that matches your gender identity and outward presentation.
The struggle to update Virginia’s gender marker change procedure is a fight that Virginia’s LGBTQ advocates and their allies in the state legislature have been having for years, to no avail. However, in this first General Assembly session to feature a Democratically-controlled GA, the difference has been like night and day. For one thing, the Virginia Values Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, and public accomodation on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, is on its way to the governor for his signature. For another, two less discussed but just as important bills making it easier for transgender and non-binary Virginians to obtain correct ID documents are headed for Gov. Northam’s desk.
The first is SB 246, a bill introduced by state Senator Scott Surovell which will allow Virginians to identify themselves as non-binary on driver’s licenses and identification cards. The bill specifically requires DMV to offer a third option, “non-binary,” along with “male” and “female” on the form designating an applicant’s sex as listed on DMV-issued identification. Virginia would then join 15 other states and DC in offering legal recognition to non-binary gender identities.
The second is SB 657, introduced by Delegate Jennifer Boysko, which allows trans people a much easier path to change the name and gender markers listed on their birth certificate. Boysko has been attempting to pass a similar bill for years; the bill she introduced in 2018 with a similar goal was passed by indefinitely by a House subcommittee. This year’s model would allow for a transgender person requesting a birth certificate with updated name and gender marker to submit a form completed by a health care provider stating that the person making the request had “undergone clinically appropriate treatment for gender transition.”
This would replace the current legal requirement for “a certified copy of a court order indicating that the sex of the person has been changed by medical procedure,” both allowing applicants to avoid the lengthy process of obtaining a court order, and, most importantly, eliminating the need for a “medical procedure,” generally understood to mean gender-reassignment surgery, in order to update their birth certificate.
This isn’t a minor change; while surgical procedures associated with gender transition are often part of the public discourse about transgender people, the fact is that for most, such surgeries are economically out of reach. Many health care plans do not offer coverage for them, and such surgeries are not available anywhere in Virginia, thereby requiring interstate travel and the ability to obtain longterm convalescence away from home.
And, as advocates have pointed out, many trans people do not feel the necessity to have surgical procedures done in order to live as their true gender.
“Not all trans people look to have medical surgery to identify as trans,” said Nationz Foundation founder Zakia McKensey in a 2018 interview with GayRVA. “Being trans can be legal, it can be medical, and it can be social — Legally changing your name, or socially having people identify you as your new name, or changing the way you dress… it shouldn’t be a requirement to have a surgical procedure to identify you as transgender.”
By easing the path toward a change of gender markers on birth certificates, SB 657 will by extension make some issues that have cropped up for transgender Virginians with the arrival of Real ID easier to navigate. It will enable trans Virginians who’ve had their gender markers updated through DMV (which does not require a certificate of medical procedure) to ensure that all of their legal documents match, and that no unwanted red tape will prevent them from being able to fly.
In the end, what these bills mainly demonstrate is that elections have consequences, and sometimes they are very good ones. Within two months of the new Democratic General Assembly being sworn in, many positive changes that LGBTQ Virginians have struggled to obtain for years have already come to pass. It’s hard not to be excited about that.
Top Photo: A rainbow flag was raised on Sept. 23, 2019, along with a trans flag and the Philly Pride Flag, for Richmond Pride. (Photo from City of Richmond Flickr account)