New Data Suggests ‘Bathroom Bill’ Would Burden Nearly All Transgender Texans

Health department stats show few trans Texans have corrected their birth certificates, making them vulnerable to discrimination under Senate Bill 6.

About 100 LGBT Texans, supporters and allies marched outside Rockwall City Hall Monday night to protest the mayor's proposal to criminalize some trans people for using public restrooms. Bathroom ordinance
About 100 LGBT Texans, supporters and allies marched outside Rockwall City Hall in May, in support of trans Texans’ access to public restrooms.  John Wright

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has said his so-called bathroom bill isn’t discriminatory because transgender people can update their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity.

However, statistics obtained by the Observer from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) suggest that fewer than 1 percent of transgender Texans have updated their birth certificates, meaning the overwhelming majority could be forced to use restrooms that don’t match their gender identity under Senate Bill 6.

LGBT advocates said the DSHS statistics, which have not before been made public, underscore the obstacles transgender Texans face if they seek to correct their gender markers on state identification documents.

SB 6, authored by state Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would require people to use restrooms in public schools and government buildings based on the sex listed on their birth certificates. It would also bar cities from enforcing transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, meaning private businesses could restrict restroom access based on birth certificates for customers and employees.

According to DSHS, a total of 497 Texas natives updated their birth certificates “to reflect a medical or surgical sex change” from 2006 to 2016. Last year, the Williams Institute at UCLA estimated that 125,000 transgender adults reside in Texas.

DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said the department doesn’t specifically track the number of transgender people who’ve corrected their birth certificates. However, in response to a request from the Observer, the state agency compiled the data based on how many people have updated their birth certificates using a court order.

“A court order is required to change the sex due to a medical or surgical sex change but not for a change due to an error,” Van Deusen said. “We’re reasonably confident this captures all changes to sex on birth certificates due to a court order.”

Texas has no standardized procedure for transgender people to update their birth certificates or driver’s licenses, and judges in only three of the state’s 254 counties — Bexar, Dallas and Travis — routinely issue court orders granting gender-marker changes, according to LGBT advocates. Last year, a Texas appeals court in Harris County rejected a trans man’s petition for a gender-marker change on his driver’s license.

Neither Patrick nor Kolkhorst responded to requests for comment on the DSHS statistics.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick

“This whole idea that we are discriminating against anyone is nonsense,” Patrick said earlier this month in an interview with Lubbock’s KFYO Radio. “We say it’s based on your birth certificate, so if you were to have some type of surgery or hormonal therapy, and a judge agrees that you can change your birth certificate, it’s based on your birth certificate. It’s a clean-cut bill and it’s a sensible bill.”

Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, said the DSHS statistics indicate that SB 6 could be even more harmful to the transgender community than North Carolina’s controversial bathroom bill, House Bill 2.  

“North Carolina has standardized procedures for the correction of identity documents, which Texas does not,” Smith said. “Even with those procedures in place, HB 2 is discriminatory. Having a mechanism to correct documents is not going to change the fact that [SB 6] is discriminatory.”

Before granting gender-marker changes, judges in Texas typically require verification from a doctor that a person has undergone transition-related treatment, including hormone therapy, for at least one year. But even judges willing to grant gender-marker changes are reluctant to do so for people under 18, who would be disproportionately affected by SB 6 due to its school-related provisions, according to LGBT advocates.

Transgender residents who weren’t born in Texas must seek changes to their birth certificates in their home states. Other states have a patchwork of laws related to gender-marker changes, including some outright bans.  As of 2014, more than 60 percent of Texas residents were born in the state.

Nell Gaither, president of Trans Pride Initiative, a Dallas nonprofit, recalled one recent case in which a client sought to change both their name and gender marker in McLennan County.

“The judge didn’t want to do the name change, but acquiesced,” Gaither said. “But in doing so, he told the petitioner not to even think about asking for a gender marker correction.”

Trans Pride Initiative eventually connected the client with an attorney who’s helping them to refile the petition in Dallas County.

“But succeeding in doing a gender marker correction, beyond being expensive for many trans persons who are often marginally employed due to discrimination, is the exception rather than the rule,” Gaither said.

This week, Kolkhorst told the Houston Chronicle she’s considering changes to SB 6, and denied that the bill is intended to target the transgender community. SB 6, which now has 10 co-authors, has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Affairs. No hearing on the bill has been scheduled.

A total of 497 transgender Texans have obtained corrected birth certificates from the state since 2006. Statistics weren’t available prior to 2006 because the department used a different computer system that has since been decommissioned, DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said. Here’s a breakdown by year:

  • 2006: 43
  • 2007: 44
  • 2008: 46
  • 2009: 42
  • 2010: 42
  • 2011: 45
  • 2012: 54
  • 2013: 48
  • 2014: 59
  • 2015: 40
  • 2016: 34

Source: Texas Department of State Health Services

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Published at 1:40 pm CST
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