LGBTQ+ Program Expands Access to Name and Gender Marker Corrections
Welcoming a new baby into the world can spark feelings of possibility, curiosity, and discovery for families and communities—who is this new person? What are their unique gifts? How will they grow and change?
At the same time, however, a new baby’s legal identity is determined by the name and gender marker listed on their birth certificate. That identity is used across a variety of state and federal agencies and gets placed on legal documents.
For many transgender and nonbinary individuals, who they are is not reflective of what is listed on their birth certificates or state and federal documents. As a result, legal documents don’t match up with the person themselves. Instead, legal documents reflect who a person is before transitioning.
“Having your identity documents match your gender identity is critical. Otherwise, the mismatch is an open door for discrimination, harassment, physical violence, and misgendering or other verbal violence,” says CRLA LGBTQ+ Legal Director Carla Lopez.
One way that transgender and nonbinary individuals can avoid these harmful effects is by engaging in the court process and obtaining a court-ordered name and/or gender marker correction. CRLA’s LGBTQ+ Program has implemented a number of ways to provide access to this process for people in need across California.
Name and Gender Marker Corrections Are a Civil Rights Issue
If your lived identity unfolds in line with the legal identity assigned to you at birth, you may not realize all the ways your self-identity is affirmed and your day-to-day life is eased when your driver’s license, bank records, social security records, credit information, passports, and even school diplomas all match up with your gender identity.
Far beyond mere inconvenience, however, a legal identity that is mismatched to a person’s gender identity can lead to significant harm. Misgendering or deadnaming a person is disrespectful, denies their privacy, autonomy, and inherent dignity, and can damage their mental and physical health.
As Chan Tov McNamarah writes in the California Law Review, “Today, the vast majority of Americans can easily see the indignity imposed by referring to a Black man as ‘boy.’ And yet, they remain oblivious to the harm of referring to a transgender girl or a nonbinary person as the same…Framed with such perspective, opposition to misgendering can be understood, not as demands for new ‘special rights’ or ‘radical grammatical modifications,’ but as a link in an ongoing fight against verbal violence inflicted upon minority social groups."
Legal Services Address Complex Needs, Intimidating Process
When transgender and nonbinary individuals pursue the court process and obtain a court-ordered name and/or gender marker correction, the court order creates a paper trail that links a previous name and gender marker to a lived name and gender marker.
Name and gender marker corrections open the door to a life of safety, stability, and authenticity for CRLA clients. The positive benefits to their emotional, mental, and physical well-being are many.
However, many people may feel intimidated by the process or unsure of their rights or where to start. Legal services can make the difference for them.
CRLA’s LGBTQ+ Program has been instrumental in legal name and gender marker corrections in rural areas of California because there are very few legal service providers engaged in this work. The LGBTQ+ Program team collaborates with other CRLA staff and legal services organizations to provide trauma-informed, culturally sensitive, and bilingual (Spanish and English) services that address the complex legal needs of LGBTQ+ communities across rural California.
Starting in 2021, CRLA’s LGBTQ+ Program expanded the volume and scope of name and gender marker correction work, especially in California’s Central Valley and Central Coast. CRLA conducted outreach with local LGBTQ+ Pride centers to provide education on California’s court petition process and updating identity documents, while also resuming limited in-person community legal clinics.
The LGBTQ+ Program has also identified other legal service providers working on name and gender marker correction issues and created a statewide California Name and Gender Marker Correction Coalition.
What Name and Gender Marker Corrections Can Do
“Name and gender marker correction issues are not tangential to the legal services that CRLA provides,” said Denise Hunter, former LGBTQ+ Program Legal Director. “Name and gender marker correction issues are embedded within CRLA’s priority practice areas—labor, housing, education, and health—because these issues can be the root source of wrongful employment termination, housing eviction, school bullying, or healthcare denials.”
For example, CRLA helped a nonbinary client regain access to lifesaving healthcare who was repeatedly disenrolled from Medi-Cal benefits after updating their identity documents because the agency’s computer database wasn’t recognizing the new nonbinary gender marker. CRLA worked with Medi-Cal administrators to address the system glitch and ensure that the client was properly re-enrolled in their insurance plan.
LGBTQ+ Program staff also assist low-income immigrants to correct their name and gender marker on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) immigration documents after receiving their court order. USCIS does not have a centralized process to update biographic information, so immigration documents can only be corrected through complex USCIS fee waiver and application forms that are very difficult to process properly without legal representation.
Pandemic Worsened Access Challenges in Rural Areas
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the LGBTQ+ Program’s work and that of community partners cannot be overstated. Improving access to legal services in rural areas is already uniquely challenging under normal circumstances, with barriers like limited transportation or time to travel long distances to legal clinics or offices.
With fewer than five staff on the LGBTQ+ Program serving clients across the state, the team take a flexible and adaptive approach to outreach and legal services, evolving with the changing situations and local requirements.
Improving effectiveness of their communications has been a key strategy, including reaching out to clients over the internet, by phone, and by mail rather than meeting in person. When they had to limit in-person clinics, LGBTQ+ Program staff began providing technical assistance to rural Pride Centers offering name and gender marker corrections. After they started experiencing mail slowdowns in rural communities, they began exchanging documents over client cell phones and through drop boxes at CRLA offices.
What’s Next for the LGBTQ+ Program
While the LGBTQ+ Program has continued name and gender marker correction services in 2022 and 2023, these services are just one aspect of the program’s work.
The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the need to lift up the voices and experiences of low-income LGBTQ+ people of all ages in rural California. Guided by community needs, LGBTQ+ Program staff are also focusing their advocacy on education, employment rights, and anti-discrimination protections.
Poverty and justice are LGBTQ+ issues. CRLA’s holistic approach to community advocacy is well-suited to address the unique challenges that LGBTQ+ people face in rural California, and ensure they are treated with dignity and respect and guaranteed their fundamental rights.
How to Support CRLA’s LGBTQ+ Program
- Internships for law student and undergrads are available year-round
- Post-graduate law fellowship proposals to expand LGBTQ+ Program services to more CRLA service areas
- Volunteer for pro bono case placement, co-counseling, technical assistance, or community legal clinics
- Donate! Make a tax-deductible donation to support the LGBTQ+ Program
- Gender identity: The gender(s), if any, with which a person identifies. An individual’s gender is their gender identity, which can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
- Gender Marker: Designation of “male” (M) “female” (F) or other (X) on one’s birth certificate, ID or passport.
- Transgender/Trans: An umbrella term describing a person whose gender differs from their sex assigned at birth. A trans person may take social, medical and/or legal steps to transition. A person may identify as trans before or without taking any steps to transition, as gender is self-determined and not based on social, medical, or legal recognition.
- Misgendering: The assignment of a gender with which a party does not identify, through the misuse of gendered pronouns, titles, names, and honorifics.
- Dead name: Refers to the name a transgender person was given at birth but is no longer using. The term is intended to stress the inappropriateness of referencing a person’s name given at birth instead of their chosen name and effectively misgendering their identity.
- Lived name: A self-chosen or personal and/or preferred professional name used instead of the name listed on a birth certificate or other official government-issued document.
Source: "Gender Recognition and Lived Name Policy,” University of California, issued November 6, 2020, https://policy.ucop.edu/doc/2700693/GRLN.