- Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
- Vermont Statehouse
A law enacted this spring, Act 88, also creates a new gender marker for non-binary people — x — and establishes a process for filing an affidavit of gender identity with the state Department of Health.
The law serves as an affirmation for LGBTQ, transgender and nonbinary people who are subject to discrimination in Vermont and other states, said Rep. Taylor Small (P/D-Winooski), who helped initiate the process of getting the Department of Health rule change.
Small, Vermont's only openly transgender lawmaker, said the change will help people who have changed their gender on their driver's license — which is allowed in many states, including Vermont — by letting them have a matching gender on their birth certificate.
“It prevents this outing that happens if someone sees the incongruity with the driver’s license and the birth certificate,” Small said. She explained that when documents have different genders on them, that might indicate to an official who is checking the documents that a person is gender nonbinary — a fact that the document holder might choose to keep private.
“That would out the trans or nonbinary person. So this is safety, protection and affirmation," Small said.
“A lot of folks in the community are just very grateful for the opportunity to go through a less cumbersome process to update their birth certificates,” Small said.
The new law would improve the quality of these peoples' lives, Russo told lawmakers, noting that transgender and nonbinary youth and adults suffer disproportionately from mental health problems, with high rates of attempted suicide.
"Working to remove as many barriers as possible for trans and gender nonconforming people to live authentically reduces harm to the community," Russo said.
When he signed the bill in April, Gov. Phil Scott said the law would help make Vermont a more equitable place to live.
“Working to make our state more welcoming and inclusive for all must be a priority, and this is another important step towards that goal,” Scott said in a statement.
Small said 12 other states and Washington, D.C., have passed similar measures.
Some states are going in the other direction by passing laws that prohibit the addition of a third gender marker on birth certificates. Lambda Legal, a national organization that fights for equal rights for the LGBTQ community, said this month that it has successfully challenged state-passed restrictions in North Carolina, Idaho, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Puerto Rico.
Lambda Legal said challenges are pending in Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Small said she doesn’t know how many people will submit an attestation to change their gender marker. But she noted that when Vermont started allowing a third gender on driver’s licenses in 2019, 2,000 people took the opportunity to change theirs.
Lawmakers authorized the new rule to go into effect July 1 as an “emergency” measure in order to make the change available sooner, said David Englander, the senior policy and legal advisor at the Department of Health.
The formal and permanent rule that was approved by lawmakers will undergo a public comment period this summer before it’s voted on by the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules in the next few months, Englander said. It provides a new gender marker, x, and allows Vermonters to make the change without going before a judge.
The emergency rule expires in 180 days, Englander said.