Two D.C. Council committees voted unanimously this week to approve a bill that, among other things, would repeal an existing city law that prevents transgender people from changing their birth certificate to reflect a change in gender unless they undergo gender reassignment surgery.
The bill, written by Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), is called the JaParker Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013 in honor of the transgender woman who was murdered in February 2012 while waiting for a bus in Northeast D.C.
“D.C. only allows trans people to change their birth certificate if those requesting changes have had sex-reassignment surgery,” Andy Bowen of the D.C. Trans Coalition told the Council’s Committee on Health at a May 16 hearing on the bill.
“This surgery costs many thousands of dollars,” Bowen said. “It is out of reach for the primarily low-income transgender population. It is not covered by most insurance policies. And it is not medically safe for some people.”
Bowen and other transgender advocates and their supporters told the committee that for many transgender people, surgery isn’t necessary for them to transition to another gender.
The legislation would amend the D.C. Vital Records Act of 1981 to require the city registrar to issue a new birth certificate designating a new gender for “any individual who provides a written request and a signed statement from a licensed healthcare provider that the individual has undergone a gender transition,” according to a statement released by the Committee on Health.
The bill would require that the original birth certificate of the transgender person be sealed when a new one is issued. The measure would also eliminate a requirement under existing law that people seeking a name change publicly announce the change in a newspaper or other publication.
Transgender advocates have said a new birth certificate and name change reflecting someone’s new gender are essential steps needed for transgender people to successfully complete their transition and live free from discrimination.
With Catania’s approval, the Committee on Health and the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety made seven changes to the bill that had been proposed by transgender activists, who said the changes would strengthen the bill’s protections for transgender people seeking a new birth certificate.
“For far too long, members of the transgender community have suffered intolerable discrimination and abuse,” said Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), chair of the Committee on Health.
“The measure before us today is but one step we may take to bring protection and a sense of dignity to those who number among the most maligned members of society,” Alexander said.
The Committee on Health headed by Alexander approved the revised measure on Wednesday. The Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, chaired by Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) approved the bill on Thursday.
Twelve of the Council’s 13 members either co-introduced or co-sponsored the bill. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) was the only Council member that didn’t add his name as a co-introducer or co-sponsor.
The bill is expected to come before the full Council for the first of two votes or “readings” later this month.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has said he supports the bill and would sign it when it reaches his desk.
“This has gone perfectly,” Bowen told the Blade on Thursday. “We got all the changes that we wanted and it passed in both committees unanimously. And the runway is clear for it to get its final Council vote.”
More than 20 witnesses representing a wide range of community groups and city agencies testified in support of the bill at the May 16 hearing, which was held jointly by the Health and Judiciary and Public Safety committees. No one testified against the bill.