Oklahoma Lawmakers Don’t Want My Birth Certificate to Match My Gender Identity

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Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Oklahoma Lawmakers Don’t Want My Birth Certificate to Match My Gender Identity

Kylie Sparks

Oklahoma's gender marker ban is just one injustice in a long list the state has enacted, including a total abortion ban and a trans sports ban.

In the past year, attacks against LGBTQ folks, especially trans, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and two-spirit individuals, have been escalating in legislative bills across the country. Oklahoma has been one of the most volatile states in these attacks, from banning trans kids in sports and essentially banning abortion in the state to advancing bills that would out queer and trans students to their parents if they disclose their identities to school counselors. The legislative violence against queer and trans people in Oklahoma continues with each week of the 2022 legislative session.

Although I have lived in California for a long time, starting as a child actor flying between Los Angeles and New York City, I was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is why Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma legislature have been on my watch list. And now, the state’s attacks against LGBTQ people have directly affected me as a queer, nonbinary person.

Learning about organizations like Freedom Oklahoma, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization that tracks state bills and provides public education on the legislature, gave me the connection I desired in being able to keep tabs on what Oklahoma was doing. While the news focuses on other prominent states like Texas and Florida, a lot of the reporting on Oklahoma comes after bills have been passed in the state house and are on their way to Stitt’s desk. At that point, it generally is too late. So I started using the bill tracker database that Nicole McAfee, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, compiles weekly during the legislative sessions, which is when my heart stopped while reading about SB 1100.

SB 1100 bans third gender markers (aka, X) on birth certificates and refuse corrections to amend birth certificates, thereby erasing Oklahoma’s trans, nonbinary, two-spirit, and gender nonconforming communities. As it made its way through committees and began rapidly going through the legislative process, it was largely ignored by national news outlets. It seemed that the only people discussing it were trans and nonbinary people, including Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner, who is the first nonbinary state legislator in the country and one of the few out nonbinary people in U.S. politics.

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As I connected the dots and realized I’d be directly affected by this bill because I would never be able to have my birth certificate match my personhood, I panicked. How would this affect changing my passport? What happens if I have to provide my California driver’s license and my Oklahoma birth certificate any time I book a job and they don’t match?

It has genuinely been a fearful and stressful time for all of Oklahoma’s gender expansive community. But in my trying to sound the alarm and build power against SB 1100, I was met with virtual silence outside of queer and trans people who knew what was at stake.

While I have been out publicly as nonbinary since 2018 and used she and they pronouns (primarily using they, but was OK with she here and there), the pandemic, sudden death of my father in August 2020, and the aftermath of that trauma made me reassess my identity and relationship with being gender expansive. I realized I was holding onto ideas of gender that did not serve me—and had not served me in a long time. I was only holding on for fear of professional backlash (of which I had already suffered career backlash coming out publicly as bisexual and some form of nonbinary). In reality, life is too short to not live as authentically as who you actually are, and in my youth, I was not given the vocabulary and resources to explore and discover my identities.

With incredible support from my partner, my reps, and my friend network, I dropped the she pronoun and solely use they/them now, and I began to look into gender affirming care, including the processes of changing my documents to reflect my personhood. In California, the ability to self-report gender changes is a recent development; prior to self-reporting, a doctor or a therapist had to sign off on gender marker changes for driver’s licenses. California is also one of a handful of states to allow gender changes on both birth certificates and driver’s licenses or state IDs. The day I marched into the DMV to change my gender on my driver’s license when getting my California REAL ID was one of the coolest days in my life, and getting my brand-new ID with “X” on it in the mail was a day filled with ugly crying and feeling like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.

Then I discovered that it would be the complete opposite in Oklahoma.

While I consider myself a Californian now, I still have major ties to Oklahoma; both of my parents are from there, and when he was alive, my father was a prominent attorney in the state. He once earned the moniker of “scariest attorney in Oklahoma” for his work in workers’ compensation and malpractice as well as a multistate mediator, and he was even published for his work on class actions against pedicle screws and going after gun manufacturers. I always kept an eye on Oklahoma’s politics because while folks want to write it off as a “red” state, in reality, there are progressive pockets of the state that want a better society, and those pockets have incredible organizers and advocates building community.

While the Biden administration announced on March 31—on Trans Day of Visibility—that people could soon apply to have the X gender marker on their passports without medical documentation, it provided little comfort. In the same week, SB 1100 passed an Oklahoma house committee, and then in late April, Stitt signed it into law. Turner tweeted, “Have you ever had your colleagues vote on your personal documentation, which will ultimately affect how you show up, right in front of your eyes and say nothing to you about it?” It was a gut punch.

Shortly after Stitt signed SB 1100 into law, the Oklahoma legislature passed the nation’s strictest abortion ban, which Stitt signed into law about two weeks ago. While folks tend to get incredibly binary and gendered when talking about reproductive rights, abortion access is lifesaving health care for all, and coupled with SB 1100, the erasure of gender diverse individuals who have a uterus is incredibly damaging and mentally draining.

But the one thing I know about Oklahomans is that we are resilient, especially queer, trans, and gender expansive Oklahomans. We know we are fighting an uphill battle, but we also have the people on our side. Oklahoma will most likely face lawsuits for its discrimination against trans and nonbinary individuals between the trans sports ban, prohibiting gender marker changes, and other bills attacking trans youth and gender affirming care. We will continue to build power against them. We just need cis folks who say they are allies to pay attention and show up to do the work.

This is not a “vote harder” situation—Oklahoma has some wild gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics. This is a community organizing situation, and power can be built anywhere, even from 1,500 miles away. Keep your eyes on Oklahoma and other states besides Texas and Florida; at any point, legislation attacking trans people, like the heartbreaking ban of gender affirming care for trans youth in Alabama, will pop up, and we need collective power to stop these assaults on our communities.

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