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Legislature passes Toni Atkins bill to aid transgender Californians with name changes, identity documents

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Assembly Bill 1121, authored by Assemblymember Toni Atkins and co-sponsored by Equality California and the Transgender Law Center, passed the Assembly on Friday by a bipartisan vote of 56-18, with an official vote count pending.

The bill will help ensure people who are transgender have better access to legal name changes and identity documents that accurately reflect their gender identity. The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

“My bill provides transgender people with a simple, inexpensive, and private process for changing their names and documents to be consistent with their gender identity,” Atkins said. “I am grateful for the support of my legislative colleagues for this simple step that will have a big impact on quality of life and personal safety for transgender Californians.”

“Every Californian deserves the freedom to live as their authentic selves, and AB 1121 removes significant barriers to that freedom,” said John O’Connor, Equality California executive director. “Having documents that reflect who you really are is crucial to achieving full equality, and EQCA is proud to see this bill advance to the Governor’s desk. We thank Assemblymember Atkins for her continued leadership.”

In 2011, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey showed that 44% of transgender people reported having been denied service, harassed or assaulted when presenting identity documents that did not match their gender presentation.

“As a transgender man myself, I have experienced both the discrimination that often accompanies having identity documents that do not match one’s gender identity as well as the burdensome process of revising identity documents. This important bill will mean more transgender people will be able to go about their daily activities - from voting to applying for jobs – without being unfairly outed or put in danger,” said Masen Davis, executive director of Transgender Law Center. “We are grateful for the leadership of Assemblymember Atkins who continues to champion fairness for all Californians.”

While some states have administrative procedures that permit transgender people to amend the gender marker, name or both on their birth certificates, California still requires a court hearing as a prerequisite before the state’s Office of Vital Records will change the gender marker on a birth certificate. Court fees are currently $435 for a gender change or name change petition. AB 1121 will allow individuals to bypass the court and apply directly to the Office of Vital Records to amend a birth certificate. That will both streamline individuals’ access to corrected birth certificates and reduce the caseloads of overwhelmed courts.

AB 1121 would also make the name change process more private and affordable for transgender people, exempting them from the requirement that a person pay to publish a notice of the intended name change in the local newspaper for four weeks. Sajian Bernard of Sacramento, who testified in hearings before the Assembly Judiciary Committee, has been trying to legally change his name and gender for several years. He told the committee, "I'm really uncomfortable about the way that the newspaper notice is so public, basically announcing to everyone in the world that I'm trans. Whenever I'm outed as trans it's humiliating, and could actually put me in danger."