State Senate bills seek to aid name changes for trans Pennsylvanians

The Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Pennsylvania Capital-Star photo.)

A cadre of Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate are seeking their colleagues’ support for a package of bills aimed at lifting the legal barriers that they say bar LGBTQ Pennsylvanians from living as their authentic selves.

In a series of ‘Dear Colleague‘ memos circulated last week, Sens. Timothy P. Kearney and Amanda Cappelletti, of Delaware County, Katie Muth, of Montgomery County, and Lindsey Williams, of Allegheny County, said a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing held last June raised their awareness of, and prompted them to act on, issues ranging from the state’s name change process to the inclusion of gender on someone’s birth certificate.

“In the policy hearing, we heard extensive testimony from people with lived experiences around the name change process in Pennsylvania,” the lawmakers wrote. “Part of this testimony recognized the difficulties and discrimination individuals who do not conform or identify with the gender on their government issued IDs face.”

The bills the lawmakers plan to introduce would, among other things:

In their co-sponsorship memos, the lawmakers described the onerous, expensive and time-consuming bureaucracy that transgender Pennsylvanians must navigate as they seek to change their names.

“Transgender people are all too frequently placed in the position of having to advocate for themselves—at work, at school, with doctors, government agencies, and more. Changing your name in Pennsylvania should not require the same physical, emotional, and financial toll,” they wrote.

The Democratic lawmakers also are seeking to require the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to provide:

  • “Accurate, publicly available information detailing the name change process and the steps required in a widely available, accessible format.
  • “Dedicated and safe point of contact to help trans individuals navigate the name change process and connect with resources in their area, and
  • “Training so that all staff, judges, and administrators involved in the name change process are knowledgeable, competent, and affirming.”

The measure removing gender from birth certificates would match a recent recommendation by the American Medical Association, which said that the “removal of sex designation from the birth certificate would have little to no impact on vital statistics data collected for medical, public health, and statistical purposes.”

That bill would continue to ensure that someone’s gender at birth would continue to be reported through an existing demographic system, the lawmakers wrote.

The bills, they said, also seek to reduce the threat of intimidation and harassment that transgender Pennsylvanians all too often face.

“The process of transitioning can be enormously stressful, and simply being a transgender person can mean constantly experiencing or being exposed to harassment, discrimination, and violence,” the lawmakers wrote.

Through last November, at least 46 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed nationwide, marking the deadliest year on record, according to data compiled by the Human Rights Campaign.

“For the second year in a row, the trans community has seen a grim milestone: 2021 has become the deadliest year on record, just as 2020 was. Each and every name read and recognized on the Trans Day of Remembrance represented a full, rich life that did not deserve to be cut short,” Joni Madison, the Human Rights Campaign’s interim president, said in a statement posted to the group’s website.

“The rhetoric and stigma aimed by anti-equality political leaders and public figures at transgender and non-binary people have led to an unprecedented level of horrific violence against our transgender community. We must fight for change,” Madison continued. “We must dismantle this stigma. We must bring this epidemic of violence to an end.”

With their bills, the Pennsylvania lawmakers said the state needs to make it as easy and convenient as possible for the state’s transgender residents to live authentically.

“The delays, cost, and confusion involved in the current name change process cause real harm to Pennsylvania’s [transgender] community,” they wrote. “While an entirely new name change process is needed, this legislation sets forth reasonable, initial steps that can be taken now to improve the safety, stability, and wellbeing of our trans community in the Commonwealth.”John L. Micek is editor in chief of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this article first appeared.