A proposal that would make it easier for transgender people to change their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity cleared an initial hurdle Wednesday, as supporters said the existing process in Illinois often can make life unnecessarily difficult.
A longtime Illinois law says transgender people can only change the sex listed on their birth certificates if a doctor says they’ve had transition surgery. Under a new plan approved by a House committee, a birth certificate could be changed if a medical or mental health provider confirms someone has received “clinically appropriate” treatment. Supporters say doing away with the surgery requirement would relieve a burden put on transgender men and women and reflects scientific findings that operations are not a necessary medical treatment. Grayson Alexander, a high school senior in Springfield, said he can’t change his birth certificate in Illinois because he can’t afford surgery without jeopardizing his plans to attend college.
Advocates said people can be denied coverage for preventive care like pap smears and prostate exams if their birth certificates and identities don’t match.
“It’s also a symbolic thing to be recognized by the state as the gender that you identify as,” Alexander said. “That is immensely important. It’s very validating.”
Ralph Rivera of the conservative Illinois Family Institute told lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing the legislation is too lax and would not limit how often people can change their sex designations. He also contended the proposal could allow some people to prey on children or further traumatize sexual assault victims in restrooms.
“We need to have compassion for those women, those girls,” Rivera said
Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, criticized Rivera’s allegations in a later news conference, saying attempts to link the issue to predators is “beyond reprehensible and really beneath humanity.”
The legislation cleared a House committee by a 7-4 vote, with Democrats voting for it and Republicans against. Now, the full House can consider it.
The debate in Springfield comes amid a larger push to expand gay, lesbian and transgender rights in Illinois following the election of President Donald Trump and his decision to roll back federal protections for transgender students.
A recent executive order he signed eliminated guidelines issued under President Barack Obama that transgender students can use public school restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
Another proposal before state lawmakers would prohibit male students from using a restroom or changing room designated for females, and vice versa. To accommodate transgender students, schools could — but would not be required to — establish separate, single-occupancy bathrooms and changing rooms.
Rep. Tom Morrison, R-Palatine, said he views his plan as a compromise on a controversial issue. He said students shouldn’t have to change in front of someone with different anatomy, but he said it’s important to also “compassionately and reasonably” address the needs of transgender students.
“We can do that in a way that does not disrupt or take away from the privacy rights of the other students,” Morrison said.
Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson called this practice unfair and said students should be able to use restrooms that align with their gender identity.
“We want to make sure that all transgender kids — in fact, all kids — are able to live honestly and openly and authentically in schools and in their public life,” he said.
Democrats who control the Illinois House haven’t scheduled a debate on Morrison’s plan.
His district covers part of Township High School District 211, which has been embroiled in conflict over transgender students’ access to bathrooms and locker rooms. A group of parents and students sued the district and federal government after a fight with federal officials led the district to grant a transgender student full access to a girls’ high school locker room. The group argues the policy violates students’ privacy and says gender identity shouldn’t be included under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. The suit is ongoing.
While the Trump administration has heightened concerns among advocates for gay and transgender rights, they also say there was more work to be done in Illinois even before he took office. To that end, Democrats are pushing other efforts to broaden protections in Illinois.
A measure sponsored by Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, would prohibit people accused of second-degree murder from claiming they were provoked by the victim’s sexual orientation.
Democrats are also floating legislation that prohibits juries from excluding someone based on sexual orientation, race, gender and more. Another bill would give applicants to boards and commissions under the governor’s office the option of disclosing their sexual orientation. Johnson said data collected through that system would allow advocates to ensure the LGBTQ community is represented in state boards.
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