A 10-year-old champions trans rights. Lawmakers let her down.

A 10-year-old champions trans rights. Lawmakers let her down.

On her tenth birthday, Jude read Colorado lawmakers an essay she wrote for her Fourth Grade class. She spoke about her experience as a transgender child wanting her birth certificate to reflect her gender identity. (At the family’s request, we are not using her last name)

“I believe all people, like transgender people, should be able to change their birth certificates” without the certificate saying “amended” on it. “People should be treated the same…We all are human,” she told the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, a Republican-led kill committee.

“You can do the right thing and vote yes on House Bill 1185,” she told the lawmakers.

But the Republican majority denied her request for help for her and thousands of transgender Coloradans wanting to fix their birth certificates.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City, is a gay Catholic, who chose as his confirmation name Jude Thaddeus, taking the name of the patron saint of miracles and impossibility. Through tears, Ulibarri told the committee Monday he chose the name Jude, “so I would have hope.”

He asked the committee to give hope to those who face harassment and discrimination because their birth certificates don’t match their identities.

The measure, House Bill 16-1185, died on a party-line vote, just like it did last year. The defeat did not surprise anyone.

The evangelical political movement’s decades-long attack against the LGBT community has shifted from swiping at anti-discrimination laws and marriage equality to attacking transgender people’s struggles for equal rights. The Republican Party has long depended on wooing the evangelical base to win elections, so the vote seemed inevitable.

The bill would allow a transgender person to obtain a new birth certificate, not an amended one, that identifies that person’s gender. The request would be accompanied by a statement from either a medical or mental health provider who attests the person has undergone surgical, hormonal or other treatment appropriate for that person for the purpose of gender transition.

Current Colorado law requires those who want such a change to obtain a court order. The person has to have undergone gender reassignment surgery, and the birth certificate then notes it has been amended.

Those seeking approval of the bill, also known as the “Birth Certificate Modernization Act” say current law doesn’t go far enough. Witness Todd Garrity said some transgender people choose not to have surgery, either because it’s not medically possible, they can’t afford it or because it carries great risk, including a lengthy recovery process.

Surgery is an issue between doctor and patient, not the state government, he said.

He also pointed out federal law was changed six year ago. That law no longer requires a transgender person to go through reassignment surgery to obtain a passport, Social Security card or driver’s license.

But the birth certificate is the document to initiate the process of getting a passport or driver’s license. According to witness Dane Stephenson, often the best a transgender person can do is to obtain a temporary passport rather than a permanent one, because of the birth certificate problem.

Transgender people face frequent discrimination and harassment at school, when seeking employment, in the workplace, at the voting booth, from doctors and hospitals, and from TSA scanners at airports, witnesses said. Often, this is because their birth certificates force them to publicly address their transgender identity.

This isn’t a liberal Democratic issue, said Eric Kluzek, the father of a transgender child, and who said he is a conservative.

The bill won bipartisan support from the House, with five Republicans from urban and rural parts of the state voting to approve it along with the chamber’s 34 Democrats.

Dave Montez of the LGBT advocacy group One Colorado said Monday’s law would allow anyone in a position of authority to ask why a birth certificate doesn’t appear to match a person’s gender. The risk of exposure endangers transgender people, Montez told the committee.

Jude’s mom Jenna told the committee, “She doesn’t choose to be transgender. I admire her courage to be her true self. Passing this bill won’t hurt any of you or your children…I’m not asking you to support or love my transgender child,” but merely to pass the bill to ease issues that arise in insurance, school documents and employment.

After the vote, two of the committee’s three Republicans rushed out. But Sen. Ray Scott, a Grand Junction Republican, stayed to address why he voted against the bill. He based his decision on policy, not to hurt the witnesses, he said.

In criminal cases, connecting DNA to a person can be difficult if the gender identity on a birth certificate doesn’t match the DNA, he said.

Those who testified called his explanation false.

People can be intersex, genetically, with an indeterminate gender, said one.

“You can look like a female with XY chromosomes, or look like a male with XX chromosomes,” said another.

Several noted that Scott never raised the issue during the hearing. Had he done so, they would have addressed it.

According to witness Shari Zabel, both the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association say the DNA argument is a decoy.

“Standing on that is a cop-out by those who just don’t get it,” she said.

Following the hearing, One Colorado’s Laura Reinsch pledged they would continue the fight next year. But to win, she said, Democrats will have to maintain the House and win back control of the Senate, as Republicans seem unmovable on the issue.

 

Photo credit: Marianne Goodland

Correction 3/22/15: to correct spelling on Eric Kluzek’s last name.

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About the Author

Marianne Goodland

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.

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