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Washington birth certificates could list sex as M, F or X

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 6, 2017, 6:35 a.m.

A giant pride flag makes its way through downtown during the 2017 Pride Parade on Saturday, June 10, 2017, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
A giant pride flag makes its way through downtown during the 2017 Pride Parade on Saturday, June 10, 2017, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Washington birth certificates could soon have three options to represent a person’s sex: M, F, or X.

The state Department of Health is considering a change in its rules that allow transgender individuals born in the state to petition to change the sex listed on a birth certificate to represent their gender identity. It would also allow those who don’t identify as either strictly male or female to choose a third option, X.

The proposal met with strong support from groups supporting and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities at a hearing Tuesday.

“To me, laws and rules like this attempt to reflect the best of society,” said Meghan King, a Microsoft employee and a proud member of the “non-binary community.”

It was also criticized by people who contended the state was blurring the lines between sex, which they said can be determined biologically, and gender identity, which they contend is subjective.

“Everybody wants to see people treated with dignity,” said Kaeley Triller of the Hands Across the Aisle Women’s Coalition. “A person’s sex is immutable.”

The state currently has a process allowing an adult to change the sex listed on a Washington birth certificate, which requires either a letter from a doctor saying the person making the request has had “appropriate clinical treatment” or a court order.

In considering a revision of that rule, the department is also proposing the X option to include those who are “intersex, agender, amalgagender, androgynous, bigender, demigender, female-to-male, genderfluid, genderqueer, male-to-female, neutrois, nonbinary, pangender, third sex, transgender, transsexual, Two Spirit, and unspecified.”

In Spokane, people who identify as nonbinary relished the news.

Jac Archer, the vice chair of the Spokane County Democrats, plans to change to X to reflect an identity as “genderqueer” when the funds are available.

“It would be great to have my legal documents reflect what I know to be true about myself,” Archer said, who added it’s frustrating to have documents denoting a gender no longer identified with.

Puck Kalve Franta, a volunteer at the Odyssey Youth Center, an organization that supports LBGTQ youth communities, echoed Archer’s sentiments. Raised as a woman, now identifying as nonbinary, Kalve Franta said it feels like lying to check “male or female” on a form.

“I feel like I’m not being honest to myself and others,” Kalve Franta said.

Sevan Bussell, the director of advocacy and education at Odyssey, has been following the proposed rule change since it was announced in October. Bussell said for the kids at the center, of which 50 to 60 percent identify as transgender, a change like this would be a huge step in the right direction.

“It adds that legal validity that we believe people, and the people who are who they say they are,” Bussell said. “Being able to have that legal protection is very, very important.”

Kalve Franta, who came out as nonbinary at 15, said it may seem like a small change, but it could send a message to those who’ve been vocally against transgender people, such as a local pastor who wrote a column in the Spokesman-Review calling “transgenderism neither normative, nor acceptable.”

Sometimes people need to win those small battles before taking on the big ones, Kalve Franta said: “It makes a broader change in that feeling that you’re meant to exist. Without it, it can bring people down.”

Under the proposed change, an adult could request the change by filling out a form with the necessary information and a copy of the original birth certificate, and having it notarized. For a minor to change the sex designation on a birth certificate, a parent or guardian and a licensed health care provider treating the minor would have to submit signed statements along with the notarized form.

The requirements for minors could put an undue burden on a young person trying to change their birth certificate, several people said at Tuesday’s hearing. Michelle Hazelmyer, a trangender woman originally from Spokane and Springdale, said finding a notary in rural areas can be a problem, and the fees for doctors or notaries could be a barrier for low-income and homeless youth.

“How do you pay fees when you have no income?” Hazelmyer said.

But Rebecca Faust, a Shelton resident , questioned whether the department has the authority to change birth certificates to add a designation not included in Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

“I’m sure the secretary may be overreaching” if he approves the change, said Faust, who in 2016 unsuccessfully challenged a rule by the state Human Rights Commission that allows transgender people to use public restrooms based on gender identity.

The department will compile all the comments on the proposed rule change for Director John Wiesman by mid-December; and the earliest the change could take effect would be late January. A significant change in the proposal could bring a new round of comment and delay implementation.

Staff writer Jonathan Glover contributed to this report from Spokane.


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