OUT MetroWest: Gender X bill called a key step

Massachusetts State House. (Photo by Aaron Ye/BU News Service)

By Brianna McKinley
BU News Service

BOSTON – The latest version of a legislative proposal to designate an “X” gender on official documents goes far beyond Massachusetts driver’s licenses and would be an important step for LGBTQ people looking for official recognition and a step toward reducing pain and stigma, advocates say.

“The movement to be able to be recognized on official documents is one that takes a significant amount of time, but also causes a significant amount of pain for those who are affected,” said Sawyer Bethel, executive director of OUT MetroWest, a Framingham-based nonprofit that runs programming for LGBTQ youth and training sessions for local schools and organizations.

“We also know that Massachusetts is a leader in protecting and celebrating queer people, and my hope is that this will continue to spread to other states and even federally at some point.”

The measure was initially filed in the previous legislative session by Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, on behalf of 17-year-old Natick resident El Martinez.

Although many have focused on the bill’s implications for driver’s licenses, it would also allow the sex indicated on birth records to be designated as “X” for the child’s gender. In addition, an adult may request a change to the sex on a birth record to male, female, X or a different designation. Neither of these changes would require a court order, proof of name change or medical documentation under the bill.

The National Center for Transgender Equality, which provides information about transgender rights and issues, gave Massachusetts an “A” rating for driver’s license gender change policy because no provider certification is necessary, but there is currently no gender-neutral option. Nevada has the same policy.

However, other states have already gone further. Oregon and Washington, D.C., have allowed a gender-neutral option without documentation since 2017. Minnesota, Maryland and California have followed suit since then, earning them an “A+” rating from the group.

Spilka lamented this fact in her testimony. She said the bill in Massachusetts would not be groundbreaking on a national level, but instead a common-sense provision that “is about validating and letting people be who they are.”

Spilka credited Martinez, who identifies as gender-nonconforming and who also testified at the hearing, for raising the issue while applying for a learner’s permit.

“El was unequivocally the genesis of this legislation,” Spilka said. “Not everyone fits neatly into traditional categories of male or female. People can face discrimination, harassment and other challenges when the gender on their ID doesn’t match their true lived identity.”

“To not be given this X option would mean carrying a document that depicts a person I am not,” Martinez said. “This is about the state recognizing that transgender people are as real and valid as any other cisgender person.”

Legislators noted that the state agencies that would be affected by the bill are already prepared. The Registry of Motor Vehicles, for instance, has built into its systems the ability to add gender designations to driver’s licenses.

But after an encouraging vote of 36-1 in the Senate in June of last year, the previous bill failed to come up for a vote in the House on the last day of formal sessions.

Spilka didn’t cite specific reasons why the bill stalled during her recent testimony. But many advocates blame former Republican state Rep. Jim Lyons, who is also the current head of MassGOP, and filed 29 amendments to the bill.

“We came close to the finish line, didn’t make it; we’re here again today,” she said simply.

This article was previously published in the MetroWest Daily News.

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