Gender X bill backers seek House vote

Push for non-binary designation on driver's licenses, birth certificates


NEXT YEAR, Ryley Copans plans to get married. But Copans, 25, who uses the pronoun they, said they have a lingering worry that the state marriage license documenting the partnership won’t accurately reflect their identity.

“Being non-binary is a real and valid gender identity,” Copans told a panel of state legislators on Tuesday. “We want to be recognized as we are.”

Copans and other supporters of legislation to make a gender neutral designation available on state identifying documents like driver licenses, birth certificates, and marriage licenses testified before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. The hearing in the Gardner Auditorium drew an overwhelmingly supportive audience, including many individuals who identified themselves as non-binary and explained to legislators how a new law would impact their lives.

Some said the legislation would make them feel safer, while others explained how it would make it easier for them to obtain relevant health care.

A bill (S 2213) to make a “gender X” designation available as a third option on driver licenses and birth certificates passed the Senate almost unanimously in April, and advocates are pushing for a vote in the House as they seek to move their legislation to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.

A similar bill passed the Senate last session, but stalled in the House, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 127-32 this session.

Copans told the committee that lawmakers should not take as long to pass the bill as they did to approve a ban on conversion therapy for minors, which became law this year after many years of failed attempts.

The bill that passed the Senate this past spring would require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to make a third, gender-neutral option available to applicants for a license or learner’s permit and would allow anyone over 18, an emancipated minor, or the parents of a minor to request a change in the sex listed on someone’s birth certificate to male, female, or X. The birth certificate component was added to the bill this year.

“No public policy good is achieved by forcing someone to lie about their gender identity. But much good does come from permitting the designation of gender X,” said Arline Isaacson, the co-chair of the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles has already said that it has been working to prepare software capable of offering a third “gender X” option on ID cards, and the administration has simply been watching to see what the Legislature does before making the switch.

Critics of the legislation, including former House lawmaker and Massachusetts GOP Chairman Jim Lyons, have raised concerns regarding public safety and confusion for law enforcement, while Massachusetts Family Institute Executive Director Andrew Beckwith said driver’s licenses should reflect a person’s sex, not their gender.

“The concept of ‘gender identity’ is based on internal feelings, but sex is binary (male or female) and grounded in biology, and we believe that a state ID should continue to reflect the objective fact of sex, not gender,” Beckwith said.

Many testifying Tuesday, however, noted that Massachusetts would not be at the vanguard of the movement toward gender neutral documentation. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia already allow a third, gender neutral option on driver’s licenses.

“As a leader historically, I think it’s time for Massachusetts to join the pack,” said Jordan Meehan, policy coordinator for the Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Youth.

While the Transportation Committee initially heard the Sen. Jo Comerford bill that passed the Senate, the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee has control over a seperate bill (H 3664) filed by Rep. Mindy Domb of Amherst and Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge. Testifying together with a handful of their colleagues behind them, Domb and Decker told the committee that their bill represented a natural progression from the ballot law approved by voters protecting access to public accommodations for transgender individuals.

“When we take away the opportunity to be our authentic selves, we take away our humanity,” Domb said.

The freshman House Democrat also said that forcing someone to choose between two gender options that don’t reflect who they are “sanctions dishonesty, promotes stigma, and keeps our neighbors invisible.”

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Matt Murphy

State House News Service
The committee had few questions for supporters, but chairwoman Danielle Gregoire, of Marlborough, did ask about a cost estimate. Domb and Decker said there wasn’t one.