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Parents in New Jersey will see a third option for gender on birth certificates starting February 1. In addition to male and female, there will be nonbinary, a gender-neutral option. This also makes it easier for nonbinary and transgender people to change their birth certificates to affirm their gender identity.
“You often use a birth certificate to enroll in school. Until you have a license that is your ID,” Aaron Potenza, policy director of Garden State Equality, told TODAY. “For people under 16, they often have to show their birth certificate, and they are coming up against issues.”
Problems can occur when a child’s birth gender doesn’t match their gender identity. Though New Jersey has laws that require schools to treat students by their preferred gender, they still face discrimination, bullying and harassment. Nonbinary people don't identify as male or female, and having that option helps protect them from some of the same issues. The new law, the Babs Siperstein Law, makes it easier for people to change their gender on their birth certificates, which can protect young trans and nonbinary people from discrimination.
“When the birth certificate shows what the gender at birth is, not every school is going to treat them fairly,” Potenza said.
What’s more, the new law makes it easier for people of any age to change their birth certificates to the correct gender without showing proof of gender affirmation surgery and providing a letter from a therapist. This remains especially important to transgender children, because they do not get gender affirmation surgery. And many transgender people never opt for surgery, so they were living with identification that mis-genders them.
“It is invasive. It is burdensome. You shouldn’t have to produce medical records. You shouldn’t have to say, ‘I had this surgery’ to have your identity affirmed,” Potenza said. “If the way you live and now see yourself and present yourself in the world does not match that document, you can have an issue.”
Oregon, California and Washington also have similar legislation surrounding birth certificates, and New York City offers a gender-neutral option as well.
“It could even out the children who chose to be more private," Grace Mauceri told TODAY via email. Her 14-year-old son is trans and was lucky to be able to change his birth certificate to reflect his gender. But Mauceri knows other trans people face problems because of gender mismatches.
“It is disconcerting and unsettling when you don't have your legal documents match your identity. It feels unsafe,” Mauceri said.
The family applauds the bill and hopes its passage helps others better understand issues facing trans and nonbinary people.
“I hope that people realize that being trans is OK, that being trans is normal,” Mauceri's son told TODAY. "If we could just accept each other as ourselves and let us have the papers the make us feel at ease, that's huge for us."