A historic moment

Brianna Titone, a state representative for the 27th House District of Colorado, center, receives applause as she is recognized as being the first transgender individual to hold a seat in the state of Colorado during the opening day of the Colorado State Legislature at the Capitol on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 in Denver, Colorado.

The fifth try at a bill in the Colorado legislature calling for the creation of a new birth certificate for transgender Coloradans passed the House Health and Insurance Committee on Wednesday on a party-line 7-4 vote.

House Bill 1039 moves on to the full House for debate and vote. 

Backers of the proposal have been trying for four years to make it possible for transgender Coloradans to change their gender on birth certificates without going through sex-reassignment surgery.

But the bills were opposed by conservative Republicans in the state Senate, and those measures died every year in the "kill" committee: the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

But Democrats now control the Senate.

Current law allows a transgender individual to seek a gender change on a birth certificate, but it's a long road that involves getting sex reassignment surgery and then a court order.

For some, the surgery isn't possible: Minors are too young, the surgery is expensive, doctors are few and far between. Some choose a gender identity other than the one they were born with without going through surgery.

Last September the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ordered the State Department to issue a passport with an alternate sex designation to a Colorado resident. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment settled a court case last year in which the plaintiff, a minor, sought to have the state’s birth certificate policy declared unconstitutional because it did not allow someone to change the gender designation on a birth certificate without the reassignment surgery.

Following that settlement, the CDPHE's Board of Health adopted rules that will go into effect on Valentine's Day. The rules allow an individual to request an amended birth certificate with the designation male, female, intersex or "X." Changing the birth certificate still requires a court order.

Last November the state Division of Motor Vehicles announced it would allow nonbinary (Coloradans who do not identify as male or female) individuals the option of an "X," instead of an "M" or "F" under "sex" on the state driver's license.

That change can be made through a form on the division's website, which must be signed by a doctor, but it does not require sex reassignment surgery. That decision made Colorado the third state in the nation to allow that change.

But none of that is enough, say transgender Coloradans who a new birth certificate issued declaring their new gender identity.

Under the measure, the state registrar (under CDPHE) can issue a new birth certificate without a court order or gender reassignment surgery, and those who have already received an amended certificate can seek a new one.

The difference between a new birth certificate and an amended one matters, say supporters. Daniel Ramos of One Colorado, the state's leading advocacy organization for LGBTQ Coloradans, said a birth certificate marked with "amended" leads to questions. And that could force someone to out themselves as transgender or nonbinary, which can result in harassment or violence.

The law would apply only to people born in the state of Colorado.

Democratic Rep. Brianna Titone of Arvada, who is transgender, testified on the 2018 version of the bill before she was a state lawmaker. She said the 2019 version lacks the watered-down language of previous bills.

Titone is a native of New York and has already obtained new identity documents. Doing so has made a huge difference in her life, she said, because she no longer has to out herself every time she shows her driver's license. 

"This is the year we will be able to protect our transgender friends," said Democratic Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, who has sponsored the bill in the House the last four years. "We have come so far in this state."

In addition to allowing a transgender person to obtain a new birth certificate, the bill also would end the practice of publishing in a newspaper the name change when it's due to a change in gender identity. That's also a risk for transgender individuals, according to Ramos. 

Dr. Rita Lee of UCHealth said 20,000 Coloradans identify as transgender. But current laws around birth certificates and other identity documents create an unnecessary burden in housing, employment and even the right to vote, when a document doesn't match the person's identity. 

"Our laws should keep our citizens healthy, protected and safe," Lee told the committee. "It's really about allowing transgender Coloradans to live out their authentic lives."

Attorney Emma Shinn of the Colorado Name Change Project said 428 people have been assisted since the project started in 2016, including 56 minors.

At least 20 other states allow transgender individuals to obtain new identity documents, including birth certificates, passports or driver's licenses. 

Among the many who testified in favor: 12-year-old Jude, who told the committee she's known she is a girl for the past four years. She has testified in favor of the previous versions since 2016.

"I've outed myself to uneducated teachers," Jude told the committee. "But being able to say I'm supported by my own government" will help her and others to come.

"We hope this is the last time" to testify on this, added her mom, Jenna.

Jude doesn't choose to be transgender, Jenna said. "She chooses to be her own self."

No one intends to commit fraud, a concern raised by Republican Rep. Susan Beckman of Littleton during the hearing, Jenna said.

"I'm not asking you to love and accept my transgender child. We have those bases covered. Just consider the good it will do," Jenna said. 

And in a surprise move, Esgar announced to the committee that she will seek an amendment in the House to name the bill "Jude's Law."

Lawmakers noted they've watched Jude grow up in the four years she's testified on the bill.

That may not be the only amendment. Republican Rep. Mark Baisley of Roxborough Park said he will propose an amendment to omit sex or gender from state identity documents.

Two witnesses testified in opposition at Wednesday's hearing.

Robert Fox of Parker told the committee that "God created us as male and female." This bill creates a "counterfeit birth certificate, a forged document, when someone wants to change their gender identity," which he said will lead to confusion.

"The two sexes are not interchangeable," he said before praying for the committee. 

David DiGiacomo of Denver has testified against civil union measures in the past and was at the Capitol in opposition to House Bill 1039. He said he was formerly a "practicing homosexual" who went through reparative therapy.

"DNA says male or female," he said.

"You can't base it on DNA," replied Democratic Rep. Yadira Caraveo of Thornton, a physician. She explained that some people are born intersex.

The change in Colorado's law could come at a time when the Trump administration has moved to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military.

The New York Times reported in October that the administration also intends to redefine gender as a "biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth."

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