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Transgender name change help bills proposed

Rep. Benjamin Sanchez, D-Montgomery, speaks on the House floor during a budget hearing.

Three bills introduced recently in the state House of Representatives are aimed at helping transgender communities throughout the state.

Rep. Benjamin Sanchez, D-Montgomery, is the sponsor of House Bills 2422, 2423 and 2424 that would remove the requirement to publish a name change in a newspaper, remove sex from birth certificates and create the Transgender Community Name Change Assistance Grant program, respectively.

The Pennsylvania LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus is a bipartisan and bicameral caucus made up of members of the General Assembly whose mission is to advocate for equality for LGBTQ+ communities across Pennsylvania. Reps. Brian Sims, D-Phila., Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, and Sen. Katie Muth, D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery, are co-chairs of the caucus. Spurred by a Pennsylvania Senate Policy Committee hearing on the barriers in Pennsylvania for the transgender community in June 2021, members of the caucus worked with stakeholders to draft six pieces of legislation to update Pennsylvania’s antiquated name change process and provide funding and safeguards for those seeking to change their name.

According to a 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 69% of survey respondents from Pennsylvania said none of their identifications had the name and gender marker they preferred, with 9% saying all their documents had their preferred name and gender marker. Sanchez wrote in his legislative memorandum that 35% of those who responded to the survey hadn’t changed their name because it cost too much to do so while another 30% who showed an ID with a name or gender that didn’t match the way the person looked had been harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave or were assaulted. Sanchez also said the newspaper publication requirement hurts domestic violence victims.

“It is time that we address this costly and emotional barrier faced by residents changing their legal name to reflect their authentic selves or seek security from others,” Sanchez wrote along with co-sponsor, Rep. Nancy Guenst, D-Philadelphia/Montgomery, regarding House Bill 2422. “For this reason, we plan on introducing legislation to address publication requirements and seal court records for name change proceedings. This is an important step forward to ensure that all members of our community face less obstacles when changing their legal name. It is also a necessary adjustment to our laws to better protect transgender, non-binary, and gender expansive Pennsylvanians.”

House Bill 2423 would remove sex designations from birth certificates. Sanchez said sex will still be reported on the U.S. Standard Certificate of Live Birth system that is used for medical and statistical data collection. He said the American Medical Association has recommended removing sex designations from birth certificates to prevent issues transgender individuals face having a different gender identity on their birth certificates.

“Someone’s gender identity is a personal journey,” wrote Sanchez and co-sponsor Joe Webster, D-Montgomery. “Many people struggle with the decision to come out about their gender identity in light of a society that has been slow to recognize transgender people as deserving of equal rights and respect. Unfortunately, bureaucratic roadblocks such as changing information on one’s birth certificate make this process even more complicated as transgender people face discrimination and multiple barriers when changing their sex on government documents.”

The final bill in the series, House Bill 2424, creates a grant program for organizations, county and municipal governments that provide services to transgender individuals. The bill appropriates $2 million for a Compassionate Name Change Assistance Grant Fund. Eligible organizations could receive between $5,000 and $100,000.

“The need within Pennsylvania’s transgender community to address systemic barriers these individuals face is unmet and growing,” Sanchez wrote along with co-sponsor Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-Montgomery/Chester. “With this grant program, we can ensure that one of the most vulnerable communities in Pennsylvania has the support it needs. Further, by providing this money to local governments and organizations, we can ensure it is spent by those who know the issues and needs of their community best. Our commonwealth will be stronger and more inclusive with this investment.”

It’s unlikely the bills will make it to the House floor. House Bill 2424 has been referred to the House Commerce Committee. House Bill 2423 has been referred to the House Health Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren. House Bill 2422 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

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