‘Gender X’ bill sails through Senate, heads to House

  • JO COMERFORD

For the Gazette
Published: 9/23/2021 8:14:01 PM

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed a bill requiring a nonbinary gender identity option on state identifications on Thursday, sending the bill on to the House, where it has died in recent sessions.

The measure, S.2282, sponsored by Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, provides for a nonbinary “X” option other than female and male on birth certificates and driver’s licenses. It also allows people over 18, emancipated minors, or a minor’s parents to change their gender to the nonbinary option on their birth certificates.

Comerford described the legislation as a “civil rights bill.”

“It’s an issue of being able to self-identify and being seen for who we are as human beings,” Comerford said in an interview Thursday. “To ignore that is to ignore someone’s identity, and to discourage it, which is a violation of human rights.”

Under the bill, those who change their gender on their birth certificates can also change their names in the following three-year-period. The bill also requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to allow people to select the “X” designation when applying for driver’s licenses and other forms of identification.

“We’ve been waiting a while for it,” said Tanya Neslusan, executive director of MassEquality. “Being able to correctly identify your gender is critically important. Nonbinary people have difficulties because they are misgendered constantly, because they don’t have documentations that validate their identity.”

GLAD staff attorney Chris Erchull called the bill “monumental” for a lot of people in the state.

“There are people today in Massachusetts who want to be able to have an ‘X’ marker on their birth certificate but are unable to do so,” Erchull said. “This is going to be a big change for them.”

More than 10 states allow people to change their gender to a nonbinary option on their driver’s licenses. This bill is a way for Massachusetts to catch up, Comerfordwrote in a Gazette column that ran Wednesday.

“Every once in a while, there is a lightning bolt,” Comerford wrote. “A clarion call to action. A brave, galvanizing force, capable of moving mountains.”

Erchull said the legislation is important for several reasons. With more states allowing nonbinary identification and with talk from the White House of including an “X” marker on U.S. passports, it is essential for people to be able to match their documents. It is also a matter of dignity and accuracy.

“Right now for a person whose gender identity isn’t male or female, that person is forced to have a birth certificate that’s inaccurate, that does not describe who they are,” Erchull said. “Another important consideration people don’t often think about is privacy. When talking about young people who are identifying as nonbinary, they might not want anyone to know what their assigned sex was.”

This is the third time the bill has been introduced, twice by Comerford. The last time it passed the Senate 39-1, but it failed to make it out of committee in the House. The three-year window to allow someone to change their name was introduced as an amendment to give people more flexibility.

Comerford first filed the latest bill in January. A parallel House bill on gender identity sponsored by Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, and Rep. Marjorie C. Decker, D-Cambridge, is scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday.

“I am very hopeful,” Comerford said of the House bill. “I think that Rep. Domb and Rep. Decker are smart and tenacious advocates. I can’t think of a better duo to tackle the bill.”

“This bill would put us (Massachusetts) in quite a transformative position,” she said. “The federal government and the international community are turning in this direction. We would be joining the international community.”

Neslusan said there is “no argument against broader inclusivity.”

“We hope, for the safety and dignity of our nonbinary and intersex folk in the commonwealth, that we see this signed into law in the coming months,” Neslusan said.

What matters now, Erchull said, is that the House prioritizes this bill.

“This is a really important bill for a lot of people and it’s going to be life-changing for a lot of people, and it should be a priority,” Erchull said.

“I am thrilled by my colleagues’ support for these important bills in today’s session,” Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said in a statement. “I am particularly grateful for today’s bipartisan vote on the ‘Gender X bill,’ which was initiated by a young constituent of mine and is very special to me. The simple, inclusionary change of providing a gender neutral designation for state licensees and birth certificates is long overdue. It’s time for our government to recognize people for who they are.”

Claudia Chiappa writes for the Gazette from the Boston University Statehouse Program in Boston.


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