Utah lawmaker wants birth certificates to misgender trans people

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Utah state Rep. Merrill Nelson (R) wants birth certificates to retain the gender markers originally assigned.

A Republican Utah state lawmaker says that the Legislature needs to address the way people in the state are able change the gender markers on their birth certificates and other state records after the state's Supreme Court ruled in May that they could do so.

Rep. Merrill Nelson said on Wednesday that lawmakers should "reestablish bedrock on what sex means and what gender identity means," according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Nelson is a member of the Utah House Health and Human Services Interim Committee; according to the Utah Legislature's website, "Interim committees study key issues facing the state to help prepare for the 45-day general session. The committee chairs prioritize what should be studied over the interim period based on items that did not make it through the session and input gathered from committee members."

The paper reported that Nelson said, "I don't think [transgender Utahns] should have to go into a court to declare their gender identity. I think they should be free to declare it anytime, any place, and be respected in that gender identity. But as far as a birth certificate, that's a different document, and sex [is] different from gender identity."

Nelson suggested another option: keeping the "sex" assigned at birth on a person's birth certificate, but letting them change the "gender identity" listed on other documents, such as driver's licenses and school records. This would effectively out transgender people to anyone looking at their birth certificates. State policies that force transgender people use incorrect gender information on official documentation put them in harm's way, LGBTQ advocates say.

Nelson said lawmakers had not made a decision on introducing a bill, the Salt Lake-Tribune reported. "I am not anxious to run a bill," he said. "It's a very delicate issue, a very sensitive issue, a controversial issue. And anyone who undertakes this, be prepared for a lot of arrows."

In 2019, Nelson introduced a bill to stop transgender people from changing their gender marker on their birth certificate, but he pulled it after LGBTQ groups opposed it. The Deseret News reported at the time that Nelson was given credit for listening to LGBTQ advocates on the issue: Troy Williams of Equality Utah said, "Thankfully Rep. Nelson heard those concerns. He went out of his way to meet with the transgender community face to face to talk to them about the issues — and he listened."

"I disagree with the outcome of the [Supreme Court] case. I don't think it's sound public policy to equate biological sex with gender identity. I think they are two different things," Nelson said on Wednesday, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers say the policy won't do anything to help the public and only serves to target a marginalized population.

Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost (D), who is on the interim committee with Nelson, said, "I think that this kind of blatant attack that actually doesn't have any public good — I think that's really the crux of it — there's no public good that comes out of it, just harm and trauma to a really specific community. This is not an issue that has incidental effects on other communities. This affects one community, and it's the transgender community"

Candice Metzler, executive director of Transgender Education Advocates of Utah, said that no one should interpret Nelson's comment that people can change their gender identity on some documents and not others as a win for transgender people and not as a setback.

"They want to throw us a shiny object, right? You can have gender on these other documents, but we want to record this sex that is immutable," she said.

Metzler added, "I think in this case, this is a form of gaslighting by saying you people who have all these crazy ideas, you can have this gender thing, but we're going to control the sex. We're going to say that you can't change sex because this really is about religion and their need to put people in boxes."

Republican lawmakers in legislatures throughout the country have introduced hundreds of bills this year that target LGBTQ people, particularly transgender people. Many of the bills were pushed by religious-right groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation, and the Family Policy Alliance. However, Utah is not one of the eight states that prohibit transgender athletes from playing on the sports team of their gender or that ban transgender youth's access to gender-affirming health care.

Dailey-Provost said that although political attacks on transgender people have become more common, the "appetite" of lawmakers for putting up with these kinds of bills has declined.

"At the end of the day, what I've seen is that a lot of legislators, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, to their credit, have really not wanted to go there on some of these issues, and I hope that continues," she said.

She said state LGBTQ groups have also organized to stop many anti-trans bills.

Dailey-Provost also gives Utah's Republican governor, Spencer Cox, credit for not supporting some anti-trans bills this year. In February, Cox said he wouldn't support a transgender sports ban that was under consideration in the Legislature. Cox said during a news conference with PBS Utah, "These kids are — they're just trying to stay alive. ... When you spend time with these kids, it changes your heart in important ways."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.