By Geeta Lewis
I’m a transgender woman of color. That means that I exist at the crossroads of the compound oppressions of race and gender expression. I earn significantly less and I’m more likely to be harassed or murdered. Make no mistake, I didn’t just wake up one morning and chose to be treated this way. I do, however, wake up every day and choose to live my life as authentically as I know how.
In the past, I’ve been treated with the common courtesy, dignity and respect most folks expect at the market, the bank or the doctor’s office. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced misgendering (which is when someone refers to you by the wrong gender) in instances where I needed to present my I.D. Even when I shared my pronouns beforehand, I’ve still been misgendered. This is because, like many transgender people, my I.D. did not accurately reflect who I am today. When transgender people are unable to update their ID documents with their current names and gender identities—often because of cost, the onerous nature of the process, and safety concerns—we have the potential to be exposed to uncomfortable situations, denials of service, and even violence.
On May 10th, the Oregon Senate made history when it passed HB 2673A, a bill spearheaded by Basic Rights Oregon and the first standalone transgender justice bill ever to pass the Oregon Legislature. The bill was signed by Governor Kate Brown on May 18th. This bill will protect the privacy of transgender Oregonians when updating their name and gender on their Oregon birth certificates, while reducing cost, paperwork, and other barriers. Additionally, the law eliminates the public posting of court petitions for name or gender change markers, which is huge for our community.
For me, it took nearly four years before I had the financial means to pursue updating my identity documents that correctly reflect who I am. The process can be so expensive that it places identity affirming documents financially beyond most transgender Oregonians, who like me, have lived most the last 10 years on an income that was thousands of dollars below the federal poverty line. While this won’t change the cost of updating all identity documents, it will save some cost in updating Oregon birth certificates.
This could not have happened without the hard work of community leaders and allies, folks sharing their stories with their legislators, and, of course, our legislators themselves. Representatives Rob Nosse, Mitch Greenlick, Jennifer Williamson and Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson sponsored the bill, and it passed the Legislature by a strong bipartisan vote.
So to our state legislators: thank you. Our state has come so far for LGBTQ equality, and we have so much farther to go. Thank you for being with us on this quest to bring LGBTQ equality to every community, every county, and every corner of Oregon.
Geeta Lewis is one of the community members who testified in support of HB 2673A, a bill to streamline the process for transgender Oregonians to update their name and gender identity on their Oregon birth certificate.