Vermonters might soon be able to change the gender on their birth certificate to match their identity
Two years ago Venn Sage Wylder learned first-hand how what seemed like a small request — to change their gender on their birth certificate — was anything but.
Wylder, who was living in Oregon at the time, identifies as non-binary. They wanted their birth certificate to reflect that and be gender neutral, but over the course of two years, they say, state officials couldn't identify how that could be done.
"I don’t think that anyone involved in that process was in any way ill-willed, but it took several years before they came round to telling me this would need to be addressed by legislative action," Wylder said.
The Department of Health is tasked with making changes to documents like birth certificates. The agency doesn’t have a process in place to change a gender marker to X.
A 2011 state statute says that anyone who wants to amend their birth certificate must prove their gender identity. As written, it was only supposed to apply to a person who wants to make a binary transition — in other words, from female-to-male or male-to-female.
That process can be painful for trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people. It puts those folks at risk for serious mental health issues that can be life threatening, says Winooski Rep. Taylor Small.
"We had one youth testify in committee who talked about the process that they went through in having to change their gender marker and how they had to convince a judge of their gender identity, that they had to get doctor's notes and notes from their psychiatrists to confirm and validate who they are," Small said.
"We all kind of came together and said, 'What is the best way that we can support all Vermonters, especially transgender and nonbinary Vermonters, to update their vital records in the simplest way possible?'" she said.
"... validating people's identities in foundational identity documents, it saves lives. That’s how it’s going to make life better for Vermonters."
If H. 628 passes, the Department of Health would adopt a simple, self-attestation process instead of the current model. It would allow anyone who wants to change their gender identity on their birth certificate to do so. That includes changes to male, female or the X marker.
Small says the bill has faced little opposition. Some legislators have voiced concerns that a person might go through the process and have it not be the right decision for them.
At a recent Senate committee hearing, Sen. Alison Clarkson, a Democrat who represents Windsor, said she was concerned about researchers being able to find the original vital documents.
"With all of these things, with all historic records, it is a challenge if people can’t access aspects of history," Clarkson said.
Wylder, whose experience helped set the bill in motion, says not having a correct gender marker can get in the way of accessing basic services like housing, voting, employment, banking and travel.
They say while the change may seem simple — an X on your birth certificate — it means much more for many.
"It saves lives, validating people's identities in foundational identity documents, it saves lives," Wylder said. "That’s how it’s going to make life better for Vermonters."
The bill still needs to pass in the Senate and be signed by the governor.