In a significant stride toward equity and inclusivity for ALL Michiganders, today, a group of legislators in the Michigan House of Representatives led by Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) introduced groundbreaking legislation aimed at facilitating the legal name change process, updating birth certificates, and improving access to accurate identification documents for transgender and non-binary individuals. The Speaker Pro Tempore worked closely with Equality Michigan Action Network, LGBTQ+ groups throughout Michigan, and the bills primary sponsors Rep. Dievendorf, Rep. Brabec, and Rep. Scott prior to the legislation introduction today.
In this blog post, Equality Michigan Action Network will break down the four core pieces of legislation and what they mean to LGBTQ+ Michiganders. But first, some background about why this legislation is so critical:
Transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people with incongruent identity documents are at a greater risk of experiencing violence and discrimination. Some states make it difficult and expensive for trans people to update their birth certificates or other identity documents, with some even requiring trans people to undergo surgery just to get an amended document. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey:
Only 11% of respondents reported that all of their IDs had their congruent name and gender, while 68% reported that none of their IDs had the name and gender they preferred.
Nearly one-third of respondents who have shown an ID with a name or gender that did not match their gender presentation were verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or assaulted.
An estimated nation-leading 78% of transgender Michiganders lacked accurate identification prior to the establishment of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s self-attestation policy.
Transgender people should be able to obtain appropriate documentation that reflects the way they live their lives. Matched identity documents are already implemented in Michigan, several of these bills aim to codify matched identity documents into law and will not change how we currently operate.
The Bill Package
The bill package introduced today contains four core pieces of legislation:
- Easing the legal name change process for Michiganders, INCLUDING transgender and non-binary people; AND victims of domestic violence, stalking, and harassment
- Updating birth certificate statute to include a non-binary sex designation (X) and reflect Attorney General Dana Nessel’s 2021 opinion that requiring surgery to update one’s sex designation is unconstitutional
- Codifying the Secretary of State self-attestation policy for state IDs and drivers’ licenses
- Codifying the Secretary of State non-binary gender marker (X) policy for state IDs and drivers’ licenses
(1) HB 5300 – Legal Name Changes
Outside of marriage, legal name changes are costly, time consuming, obfuscated, and even assume fraudulent intent. Michigan has some of the most restrictive name change laws in the U.S. Included in the list of requirements is:
- Two sets of fingerprints for the purpose of a criminal background checks for the Michigan State Police and the FBI, respectively
- Publication in two newspapers containing:
- A person’s former name (often referred to as “dead name” in the trans-community) and new (accurate) name
- Date, time, and location of court hearing
- Mandatory court hearing (with limited exceptions)
All of the above requirements have associated costs, not including any hired or necessary legal assistance. Thirteen states have eliminated or never had a publication requirement. Only six states in the country currently require a fingerprint and subsequent criminal background check to legally change one’s name: Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. The current law in Michigan explicitly states that having a criminal background infers fraudulent intent. Meanwhile, the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts and interacts LGBTQ+ communities from the juvenile system through adulthood for non-violent offenses.
HB 5300 would eliminate the fingerprint requirement and subsequent criminal background check, moving to a self-attestation requirement on the petition to change name form for those with criminal backgrounds and pending charges. It also eliminates the statutory assumption of fraud for those with criminal backgrounds.
HB 5300 also replaces the mandated court hearing, with language that allows for court-discretion on the ordering of hearings. And lastly, HB 5300 explicitly establishes affirming ones gender identity; and protecting people from threats of stalking, domestic and physical violence, harassment and discrimination as good cause for the court to waive the long outdated and unutilized publication requirement.
(2) HB 5303- Birth Certificates
Michigan’s current law requires “sex-reassignment” surgery with a certifying letter from a physician to establish grounds for the change of the sex designation on a birth certificate. It also lacks a non-binary sex designation option. Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an official AG opinion during her first term (2021), rendering parts of this statute unconstitutional and unenforceable as it infringes on civil liberties.
HB 5303 would eliminate language requiring surgery and subsequent letter from a physician, and instead replace it with a self-attestation policy. HB 5303 also adds the non-binary sex designation of “X” to the statute.
(3 and 4) HB 5301 & HB 5302 – Drivers’ License and State-Issued IDs
Michigan currently lacks any statute that provides explicit guidance on gender marker change requirements and non-binary gender marker options, leaving it up to the discretion of the Michigan Secretary of State. Prior to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s election in 2018, multiple Republican Secretary of States in the 2000’s had established and maintained restrictive and non-inclusive policies, including:
- Physician note requirement to update gender markers
- No non-binary gender marker options
Before 2018, survey data and estimates indicate that Michigan had the highest rate of transgender residents (78%) whose ID did not reflect their gender identity/expression. Rolling back and eliminating access to gender-affirming policies has been a priority of Republican legislation around the U.S., including undoing previous record changes for trans people.
HBs 5301 & 5302 create a statute explicitly requiring a non-binary gender marker option on drivers’ licenses and state-issued IDs, respectively, which not only validates LGBTQ+ people, but also recognizes the existence and validity of intersex people who are often forced via non-consensual surgery and socialization to live as a gender they don’t identify with. Finally, HBs 5301 & 5302 codify access to self-attestation policies at time of application and forms to update inaccurate gender markers on drivers’ licenses and state issued IDs, respectively.
These comprehensive legislation changes aim to remove cumbersome burdens for legal name changes, bring birth certificate regulations in line with civil liberties and non-binary identities, and ensure uniform gender marker policies on state-issued ID documents.
Equality Michigan Action Network Executive Director Erin Knott issued the following statement: “Equality Michigan commends Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky for introducing HBs 5300-5303 and championing LGBTQ+ equality in our state. The positive impact of this legislation extends beyond mere paperwork. The changes put forward in this legislation package would foster a more inclusive, accepting, and safer Michigan for ALL Michiganders.“