Utah Supreme Court considers gender documentation changes for transgender people

Nothing in Utah law should be preventing them from changing their records.

CREDIT: UTcourts.gov
CREDIT: UTcourts.gov

On Monday, two transgender individuals asked the Utah Supreme Court to allow them to change the gender markers on their identity documents. A state judge had granted them name changes in late 2016, but refused to grant them gender marker changes — a decision believed to be the first such denial in the state. They’ve had inconsistent documents ever since.

Angie Rice, a trans woman, and Sean Childers-Gray, a trans man, now have documents that bear their names, but not their correct gender designations. District Judge Noel Hyde claimed that he wasn’t sure he had the authority to grant the gender change but also revealed genuine anti-transgender bias in his opinion. “Regardless of the sincerity or intensity of the desire of any individual to display any particular physical appearance,” he wrote in December 2016, “some biological facts are not subject to voluntary modification.” This is despite the fact that countless other Utah judges have granted such changes.

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They appealed, and what’s perhaps most interesting about Monday’s hearing is that no one actually argued that the Utah Supreme Court shouldn’t grant their gender changes. As the Salt Lake Tribune explains, the Utah attorney general’s office declined to provide an opinion in the case because the appeal did not challenge the constitutionality of any relevant Utah law. So Rice and Childers-Gray’s lawyer, Christopher Wharton, essentially argued against nobody.

The problem is that Utah offers no formal process for changing one’s gender. Obtaining an amended birth certificate requires a court order, but there is no protocol for that court order. Indeed, advocates have even created their own sample forms to submit for the process. The result of this informality is that each judge in each county has their own discretion in terms of how to rule. That wasn’t a problem until Hyde imposed his own judgment that sex trumps gender.

Since then, another Utah judge has followed Hyde’s lead. In July, District Judge Bruce Lubeck similarly denied a gender marker change to 17-year-old Lex Rigby, comparing his request to someone changing their name to Adolf Hitler. Rigby’s case is on hold while the Utah Supreme Court considers the outcome for Rice and Childers-Gray.

After Monday’s hearing, the two said that they plan to keep fighting if they lose. “It’s a life issue and a civil issue to us,” Rice said, “and that standard should not be different based on where you live or what judge you get to see.”