WALNUT CREEK — Most people use their California driver’s license or state-issued ID card to prove their identity at banks, the grocery store, the doctor, or to board a plane at the airport — without giving it a second thought.
But this typical routine creates a mixture of anxiety and fear for Kaeden Finlayson. The 26-year-old Walnut Creek resident doesn’t identify as male or female, but has a California ID that says “F” for sex.
“It’s not quite like lying but it feels strange,” Finlayson said. “I feel kind of erased, like I’m not being true to myself.”
A new bill working its way through the Legislature would create a third gender-neutral option on driver’s licenses, learner’s permits, state-issued ID cards and birth certificates for those like Finlayson who consider themselves nonbinary. If SB 179, which has already passed the Senate, becomes law, California would become only the second state behind Oregon to allow a gender-neutral option on DMV documents and birth certificates. In June, the District of Columbia added an “x” in addition to male and female — part of a burgeoning global movement to provide gender-inclusive government IDs.
“For someone with an ID with a gender that doesn’t match their gender presentation, things can get difficult,” said state Sen. Toni Atkins D-San Diego, the bill’s author and the first out lesbian to serve as Speaker of the State Assembly in 2014. “Everything from a delay in completing a mundane task to outright harassment.”
Robyn Kuslits, who leads an LGBTQ support group at the Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County, offered a common scenario.
“Say if someone is getting carded at a bar and the person looking at the ID sees male, but the person is dressed more feminine,” Kuslits said. “That person may discriminate against them or harrass them saying, ‘Oh, this isn’t you.'”
Under current law, someone who wants to change their gender for a state ID document must get court approval and have a gender certification from a licensed physician. SB 179 would eliminate the mandatory medical verification. The DMV would be required to instead accept a person’s personal affidavit.
“Not having to get this medical certification would be a huge relief,” said Shawn Meerkamper, a staff attorney for the Oakland-based Transgender Law Center. “We’ve heard from folks living in smaller towns around the state who had to drive for two hours to find a health provider. It can be onerous and expensive to find a doctor to sign the form to say, ‘This is what my gender is.'”
Stephanie Paige, who is transgender, had to pay nearly $500 in court fees at the Hayward Hall of Justice last year to legally change her gender to female and have that reflected on her driver’s license.
“You have to go in there where everyone is changing their names, a lot of couples are getting married,” said Paige, 41, now an Antioch resident. “You are transgender, and you have to stand in front of all these people and go through the humiliation of outing yourself.”
That would no longer be the case under the proposed new law.
Yet it faces opposition from traditional family values advocates and religious-based groups.
“It advances a falsehood that being male or female or no gender at all is a choice each person must make, not a fact to celebrate and accept,” said Jonathan Keller, CEO of the Family Research Council. The group also takes issue with part of the proposed law that would allow parents to choose their child’s gender without a medical evaluation.
Keller said the appearance of transgender and queer people has “created difficult or uncomfortable situations for biological females in female-only spaces.”
“SB 179 removes some of the few guardrails we have left,” Keller said. “In the long run, you’re opening a Pandora’s Box because this radically alters the future of public accommodations in our state.”
Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, said SB 179 would open the door to identity fraud.
“Picture the arrest of a biological male whose driver’s license says ‘nonbinary,’ but they dress as a man one day and as a woman the other,” Thomasson said. “How many cases will be tossed because criminals use SB 179 to claim they aren’t technically the person who was charged?”
Supporters refuted that claim.
“This has nothing to do with fraud, it has to do with people having a pathway to having an ID that reflects who they are,” said Jo Michael, legislative manager for Equality California. “That currently is not possible for a significant community of people.”
Cal, an 18-year-old Fremont resident, identifies as nonbinary and said if the law passes, they will immediately change the gender on their license from female.
“It’s a big part of my life fighting to get my right gender marker, ” Cal said. “I’ve stuck with the same therapist who really wasn’t doing what I needed because I didn’t want to have to check another box and re-explain my identity to another adult who controlled my access to my medical needs.”
The California law would only affect state documents. Federal documents still only have male and female gender options.
“It will be difficult when you travel from state to state and country to country because they might not recognize it,” Finlayson said. “But at least it will help to push the effort forward.”
(c)2017 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
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