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Bills In Washington, California Allow Transgender People To Seal Name-Change Requests

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Bills In Washington, California Allow Transgender People To Seal Name-Change Requests

(CTN NEWS) – WASHINGTON – In many jurisdictions, you can change your name, but you can’t entirely get rid of your previous one. This is especially problematic for transgender individuals, and lawmakers in at least two states are working to change it.

A proposed law in Washington would let gender expression and identity be used as justifications for sealing, or preventing the public from seeing, a future petition for a name change.

Also, a California law would demand that petitions submitted by children to change their name and gender on identification documents be sealed.

Advocates caution that because their prior names, and consequently their lives, are an open book in the public record, transgender people may be vulnerable to cyberbullying or even physical violence in jurisdictions where such petitions are not sealed.

One advocate pointed out that when students are looking for background information on a new kid in town, they can and do quickly obtain and exchange such records.

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Assemblymember Chris Ward is accompanied by his partner Thom Harpole, and children Betty and Billy as he is sworn in as Speaker Pro Tempore during the opening session of the California Legislature in Sacramento, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2022.(AP Photo/José Luis Villegas, Pool)

Washington Reported Constant Abuse To Transgender People

Graduate student Maia Xiao from the University of Washington reported receiving constant abuse, including hate mail, after learning that the name-change records of a transgender buddy were posted on an online forum.

She urged reform in a letter to Democratic state senator Jamie Pedersen last summer.

“That feels very close to me,” Xiao added, declining to give her friend’s name out of respect for their privacy.

“I don’t spend a lot of time online, but it’s incredibly unsettling to know that transphobic trolls who want to hurt people may have such easy access to something so intimate.”

The bipartisan Washington legislation, which Pedersen is sponsoring and is anticipated to pass both the House and the Senate, passed the Senate this month.

The bill would also grant records privacy to refugees, emancipated minors, and those who have been granted asylum. It is based on legislation in New York and Oregon.

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Maia Xiao poses for a portrait in the library of radio station KEXP where she volunteers in Seattle, Feb. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes)

Washington And California Stand In Stark Contrast

Only those who have been the victims of domestic violence are currently able to easily seal name changes in Washington. California is one of the states that grant exceptions to people who have been victims of crimes like stalking, sexual assault, and human trafficking.

This looked like a straightforward measure that could make transgender individuals much safer in our state, according to Pedersen.

Several government representatives and law enforcement agents are concerned that the ideas could allow criminals who ask for a name change to avoid being held accountable.

The Washington bill would still ban sex offenders and those who are incarcerated from requesting a sealed name change, but it would allow courts to open a name change file if law enforcement had good cause.

According to Jennifer Wallace, executive director of the Washington Association of County Officials, “this is not the objective of the bill, and such occurrences would be unusual, but there need to be protocols in place to prevent it.”

The strategies in Washington and California stand in stark contrast to recent, enigmatic efforts in Florida and Texas to collect lists of trans residents using public records, as well as to the avalanche of anti-trans legislation being considered by politicians in at least 39 states.

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Texas Department Of Public Safety Discovered Over 16,000 Changes In Gender

The urgency of his suggestion is increased by Republicans’ “disturbing” requests for information on transgender individuals in certain of those states, according to Pedersen.

Last year, the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requested statistics on the number of persons who had updated their driver’s licenses to reflect a different gender.

The Texas Department of Public Safety discovered over 16,000 changes in gender over the previous two years but withheld the information because it was unable to pinpoint the causes of each shift.

Last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis requested information on students who had sought or received therapy for gender dysphoria from state universities. Neither Paxton nor DeSantis gave an explanation for their request for the information.

Advocates claim that young trans people who have mental health problems or gender dysphoria are more vulnerable to harassment as a result of such revelations.

The same online community that Xiao claimed had targeted her friend came under fire last year for incidents of “doxxing” trans persons, or intentionally posting their personal information online, and has been connected to suicides.

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Maia Xiao works in a production room at radio station KEXP where she volunteers in Seattle, Feb. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes)

State Of California To Seal Any Petition Under 18 Years Of Age

Peers are able to look up and discuss court documents pertaining to students’ applications for name and gender changes as they transfer to different middle or high schools, according to Kathie Moehlig, executive director of the San Diego charity TransFamily Support Services.

Once kids she counsels alerted her to the practice, she approached California Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Chris Ward with the idea for the measure.

According to Moehlig, many families with trans children aren’t even aware that such documents are available to the public.

She asserted that a person’s gender identification is an intimate aspect of who they are. “They ought to be able to keep their identities private.”

The state of California would have to seal any petition submitted by a person under the age of 18 for a chance to gender and sex or to gender, sex, and name on identification documents, according to a measure that was proposed there last month.

But has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. Documents from a petitioner’s court case would also be sealed.

Clarice Barrelet, a San Diego attorney, claims that typing her transgender kid’s name into a search engine will instantly reveal his legal gender transition. Her son is 11 years old.

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Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, speaks on the Senate floor in Olympia, Wash., Jan. 30, 2019.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

By the time he was 6, he maintained that he should not be considered a girl and that he would become a man, according to Barrelet.

Even before his mother filed a court petition to have the formal changes to his identity documents made, he came out as transgender at the age of eight and changed the name and the pronouns he used at school.

Barrelet stated that in order to better protect both children’s and adults’ privacy, she believes that the data should be sealed.

Ward, a Democrat from San Diego County and vice chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, expressed his hope that his bill would lessen the likelihood of bullying for youngsters who identify as gender non-conforming.

He mentioned that young people who are still coming to terms with their identities may find being out to be particularly upsetting.

Ward stated, “I want them to be at ease and free to be who they are.”

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