AUSTIN (KXAN) — Chin hair: that’s how it started for Rocky Lane. Little hairs popping up on his chin and his voice deepening as testosterone took effect.
“I was like, by the time I have a full beard, I’m probably going to need a driver’s license that says ‘M’ on it,” Lane said.
The musician, social media influencer and activist with the Transgender Education Network of Texas began his transition in 2017. The final step for the process: identity documents, including his birth certificate.
“The birth certificate, just in general, outside of trans issues, is a foundational document. And that is super true,” Lane said. Without an updated birth certificate, Lane couldn’t update his Texas driver’s license or passport with his gender.
For many trans men and women, not having proper identification can be risky. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 40% of transgender adults surveyed said “those who presented ID (when it was required in the ordinary course of life) that did not match
their gender identity/expression reported being harassed.”
“If I’m pulling out a document that says something other than ‘M’, that is a dangerous situation for me. That’s an outing situation for me. I have to have a lot of discussion with people in public if they see something other than an ‘M’,” Lane said.
This year, legislation that moved through the Texas Senate aimed to make this process impossible for transgender minors. Activists worry it could be the first step in an effort to make changing a gender marker on a birth certificate impossible for all Texans.
Changing gender markers on identification
The requirements for amending identity documents, like a birth certificate or driver’s license, have changed a great deal in recent years, according to Sasha Buchert.
Buchert, a senior attorney and non-binary & transgender rights project director with Lambda Legal, a non-profit aiming to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people across the U.S., said these laws vary from state to state: “It is a little bit of a patchwork.”
Some states, like Arkansas and Kentucky, require proof of a gender reassignment surgery. Others, like California and Florida, require little documentation for a birth certificate to be changed.
Texas requires a court order before a state registrar can amend a birth certificate. Lane hired a gay attorney who not only waived the costly fees, but knew the process and which judge to take it to.
“He wrote the documents out for me. I had to sign a few things, notarize them. And then he went to court for me,” Lane said. Later that day, he had his hands on a temporary driver’s license.
“My first male document,” Rocky said. “The document is like — I feel like, a stamp of approval.”
With his temporary driver’s license in hand, Lane was able to update his passport, but also buy beer and walk around in public without feeling excess scrutiny.
Just like with birth certificates, driver’s licenses have different requirements and allowances. Not all states allow updated gender markers. Some restrict who can change their certificate and others require sex reassignment surgery.
Texas’ takes on birth certificates
In March, the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs heard testimony on SB 162. The bill said a “a court may not order the issuance of a birth certificate that incorporates the completed or corrected biological sex information for a minor.”
Written by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, the bill would make it so minors can’t amend their gender on their birth certificate.
Arguments for the bill included that changing gender markers changes understanding of motherhood and “effectively allows falsification of the documents.” This last argument is in reference to HB 25, which requires student athletes to play on teams that match the sex listed on their birth certificate. That bill went into effect last year.
“If we were able to allow people to change their sex on their birth certificate, then it could undermine current laws that we have to actually protect biological sex,” testified Mary Elizabeth Castle.
Castle serves as the Director of Government Relations for Texas Values, an organization that stands for “biblical, Judeo-Christian values by ensuring Texas is a state in which religious liberty flourishes, families prosper, and every human life is valued,” according to their website.
What happened to SB 162?
Buchert, who testified against the bill, said it had some fundamental problems: “You’re forcing someone to carry around a document that doesn’t match who they are. It’s compelled speech and violates the First Amendment.” Buchert said this argument has been used to fight a similar ban in Idaho.
Ash Hall, Policy Advocacy Strategist on LGBTQ+ Rights for the ACLU of Texas, said five states have passed laws changes to a person’s gender marker on their birth certificate, with Kansas doing so this year. That bill went into effect this September and affected all transgender people, not just minors, according to the Associated Press.
SB 162 passed the Texas Senate but failed in the House.
KXAN reached out to Perry about the future of the legislation. His office declined an interview at this time.
Lane said the climate in Texas surrounding LGBTQ+ issues and a rising cost of living are driving him from the city and state where he’s grown up.
“It’s bittersweet because my community is stronger than it was when I — when I started. And I’m gonna miss them a lot,” Lane said. “But I think it is time to move on.”
Digital Data Reporter Christopher Adams, Director of Investigations & Innovation Josh Hinkle Lead Editor Eric Lefenfeld, Digital Executive Producer Andrew Schnitker, Digital Special Projects Developer Robert Sims and Digital Director Kate Winkle contributed to this report.