We all have legal identification: our driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports. They show our name, date of birth, and a single-letter marker indicating our gender. But what if the name or gender didn’t match who you are?
What if the person on your ID card simply isn’t you? For some people living in Utah, that’s a reality and changing it is not always easy.
It was the moment Crystal Legionaires learned who she was, who she was meant to be.
“I learned that these feelings that I had been having for so long… this is what they are. What it meant to be trans,” said Crystal.
She was on the debate team at Weber State University. She says the group gave her a voice.
“I was finally able to find myself. And start that transition process,” said Crystal.
She began going by the name Crystal. While she was able to recognize who she really was, she says the systems in place around her did not.
“My school wouldn’t allow me to change my name on any of their records,” said Crystal.
The school’s records still reflected the name and gender on her state id and birth certificate.
“If anyone ever needed to see those, it immediately outed me as trans because of those documents,” said Crystal.
Crystal decided to change her legal identification, but the process was not straightforward.
“I got kind of overwhelmed and had to have somebody walk me through the process,” said Crystal.
To change your name and gender marker on your Utah birth certificate, you must petition the court, have a letter from the sex offender registry verifying you’re not a sex offender and the National Center for Transgender Equality recommends providing the court with evidence of your transition with a signed statement from your doctor.
Crystal followed all those rules then waited for the Weber County court to assign her a judge.
“I’d initially felt very confident. I messaged someone on a transgender Facebook page who said, oh yeah, I went to that judge. And he was fine,” said Crystal.
But Crystal had a very different experience.
“It is apparent to me now that that person had had gender confirmation surgery. So, I had not… so… it was clearly a different game,” said Crystal.
Gender reassignment surgery also known as GRS became a sticking point for the judge at Crystal’s hearing. She gave us this recording of their interaction.
Judge: “Crystal without further guidance from the legislature again I’m back to that issue of not granting the gender change I’m somewhat sympathetic to your explanation, but where you haven’t engaged the GRS, I’m not sure that it’s appropriate to legally recognize your ability to go into female locker rooms or bathrooms.”
Judge: “How do I balance your safety over other persons safety issues?”
Judge: “That’s a struggle and consideration I’ve got to take.”
The judge denied Crystal’s petition, but she wasn’t ready to give up.
Crystal went to the state department and changed the name and gender on her passport. That does not require a court order. Then she went back to the judge.
“I get in there and it’s the first hearing all over again. Except it’s different,” said Crystal.
Then another step, the judge told her she had to bring a doctor to court. When she asked why he hadn’t mentioned that before, the judge responded, “there’s no law on this,” “no set standard.”
“I don’t know why I felt like I was being criminally tried. It was just a simple granting of a change of gender marker. But I felt like I had just done a crime. The crime of being me. Or of being transgender,” said Crystal.
ABC4 News learned Crystal is not alone in her struggle.
“We’re now getting 60 petitions for gender changes a year,” said Senator Todd Weiler, (R-Woods Cross).
Weiler began paying attention to this issue after a different Weber County judge began denying all gender change petitions.
“The case from Weber County is what brought this to my attention because the judge essentially said, there’s no law that says I have to do this, so I’m not going to do this,” said Weiler.
That lack of legislation has not stopped other courts in Utah from granting the gender marker change.
“I don’t think it’s fair that depending on what zip code you live in, you may get a judge that doesn’t see it your way,” said Weiler.
Taking up the issue, Sen. Weiler introduced a bill in the 2018 legislative session to clarify the requirements for a gender marker change.
“Right now, it’s really up to the judge to decide what the requirement is because there is no law,” said Weiler.
The bill didn’t pass, but Weiler will sponsor another version next session.
“It’s isn’t fair that the government is in some ways, forcing people to carry around a state-issued ID card that doesn’t match what they feel inside and that’s what I’m trying to address,” said Weiler.
Until then, it remains up to each judge’s discretion.
Crystal says she’s grateful for Weiler’s efforts but not entirely hopeful about the outcome.
“I didn’t think that there was going to be any action taken. I would have been very surprised. We live in a society that is not terribly trans inclusive. Let alone one that is so accepting of trans people to the point of trying to make our lives easier,” said Crystal.
The judge granted Crystal’s name change, but on the matter of the gender marker, the letter from her doctor wasn’t seen as admissible evidence.
He agreed to have her doctor testify by phone, but when the day of the hearing came, Crystal canceled due to illness.
She says, she likely won’t try again until something in the courts or law changes. Meanwhile, the courts say they’re waiting for guidance from the legislature.