Texas bill advancing in the Senate would block minors from updating gender on birth certificates
Opponents of the bill call it a “power play aimed at making the lives of transgender children as difficult as possible.”
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The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved a bill seeking to block transgender and nonbinary Texas youth from updating their birth certificate with their gender identity.
Senate Bill 162, filed by Republican state Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock, proposes requiring an individual’s sex assigned at birth to be included on their birth certificate and limiting the circumstances in which this information could be changed for minors. The proposal lists very few exceptions.
“Senate Bill 162 prohibits sex listed on the birth certificate of a minor from being amended unless the change is to correct a clerical error or complete the birth certificate if the sex was not listed at the time of birth or if the child is intersex and the sex is later determined,” Perry said during a Senate meeting Tuesday.
“There’s a lot of reasons why you don’t want to change biological sex on a birth certificate. Specifically, medical research 20 years down the road needs to know what the biological sex was when they’re doing tests,” Perry said before the Senate voted on the bill. He did not specify what medical research or tests he was referring to.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted 19-12 Wednesday to formally pass the bill. It now advances to the House.
LGBTQ advocates said the legislation would make it impossible for trans and nonbinary Texas youth to update their birth certificate and subsequently other government documents — such as those required for identification for education, traveling and employment — with their gender identity.
“Birth certificates are a foundational document,” Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, testified during the bill’s committee hearing. “And when people have identity documents — especially trans folks — that are inconsistent with who they are, it places them at risk of violence, bullying and even harassment.”
Beyond these dangers, this proposal could interrupt the process of enrolling in school, participating in extracurricular activities and applying for a passport — according to Ash Hall, a policy and advocacy strategist on LGBTQ rights with ACLU Texas who also testified against the bill at its committee hearing.
The process to change a minor’s gender on a birth certificate is lengthy and convoluted, Hall said. Currently, there is no difference in the process for minors and adults requesting a change to the gender marker on a Texas document — such as the sex listed on a birth certificate — according to a guide from the Texas Legal Service Center. The guide recommends that families seek the advice of an attorney for changes to a minor’s gender marker.
A court order is required to change gender markers on Texas documents. The decision to allow or deny a gender marker change resides with local judges, who have discretion over what proof is needed to confirm the change before issuing a court order.
Individuals seeking a gender marker change on their documents then present the court order to make changes to IDs, such as birth certificates or driver’s licenses.
The proposal would essentially erase trans and nonbinary youth from public life, according to the bill’s opponents.
“It’s already really difficult for trans people to update their birth certificates, and the vast majority of trans people are forced to live with inaccurate documents [that don’t] reflect who we are in the first place,” Hall told The Texas Tribune. “It’s deeply unnecessary, and it is only meant to harm.”
Jacqueline Murphy, a trans woman, testified during the committee’s hearing earlier this month that she was able to update her birth certificate as a minor — and that has made it easier for her to acquire identification for college enrollment and employment.
“The benefits for my peace of mind and physical safety cannot be overstated,” she said. “I expect the aim of this bill is to undermine the legitimacy of trans identity as a whole, particularly among children. … This is a power play aimed at making the lives of transgender children as difficult as possible.”
Hall added this bill includes vague language about designating the sex of intersex children. The bill would require those issuing birth certificates to fill in this field for intersex children “whose sex is later determined.” But missing from the legislation, Hall said, is when that determination is made.
“The intersex community, one of the basic rights they’re asking for is that their bodies not be operated on as infants when they can’t consent and that they get the opportunity to decide what their gender is, instead of having one forced upon them,” Hall said. The bill could eliminate the option for intersex children to change the gender initially determined for them.
Just before its passage in the Senate, Democratic Sen. Sarah Eckhardt of Austin lambasted her colleagues over SB 162 and the slate of bills that would upend the lives of trans youth in Texas.
“And my ask to this chamber is when do we satisfy our appetite for hounding this small group of already bullied children? Are we just going to keep looking for every opportunity to cause them harm?” she said.
Meanwhile, SB 162’s supporters said during the committee hearing the bill is needed to “protect current laws that we have to actually protect biological sex,” such as existing restrictions in Texas on trans student athletes’ participation at the high school level. Senate Bill 15, which seeks to extend these restrictions to the college level, has also received the formal approval from the full chamber — and there’s already enough support for the proposal in the House.
“It’s vitally important to know a person’s sex at birth,” said Jonathan Covey, policy director for the conservative group Texas Values. “It’s particularly important in light of fairness in women’s sports competitions.”
The bill’s backers also support Senate Bill 14, which was initially approved by the Senate on Wednesday. SB 14 seeks to restrict trans kids from accessing transition-related medical treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapies if they aren’t already receiving such care. The bill does ban surgeries, though these rarely happen for youth.
SB 14 is also a priority legislation for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate.
Disclosure: ACLU Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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