In recent decades, our laws, pop culture and morality have shifted dramatically for same-sex couples. Our LGBTQ+ neighbors are interwoven into the fabric of our communities now more than ever. We celebrate this recognition and indeed have made progress, but the conversation about full equality and inclusion for transgender and non-binary community is yet to be resolved.
We can't wipe away the years the Trump administration dehumanized and erased legal protections that were established for transgender and non-binary communities. With a more hospitable president in the White House, welcome advances are afoot under the Biden administration. The power to change, however, rests at the doorstep of state governments nationwide. Serious discussion among legislators about the path to equality and equity for transgender and non-binary Americans remains distant.
New state policies designed to harm transgender individuals make headlines daily; athletes are banned from participating in school sports, funding is restricted for educational resources, and young people are barred from accessing life-affirming medical treatments. These cruel and regressive policies are served up to the fringe right for the sole purpose of stoking hate and scoring cheap political points.
With hateful policies at an all-time high, Illinois is ahead of the curve. The recently passed Marriage Certificate Modernization legislation (SB139 and HB2590) allows Illinoisans to retroactively change their marriage certificate to reflect a legal name change and choose non-gendered pronouns.
When enacted, Illinois will become the second state permitting individuals a marriage certificate that accurately reflects who they are, and aligning with their other forms of legal identification. For transgender and non-binary Illinoisans who transition after marriage, this change is long overdue.
In an Illinois State Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 65% of respondents reported that none of their relevant documents showed their preferred name or gender. 34% of respondents reported being verbally harassed, denied benefits, and even assaulted when their ID showed a different name or gender marker from the one they identified.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court landmark civil-rights case involving couples who were denied legal hospital visitation rights illustrates the need for this legislation. Plaintiffs Kathy Flores and Zephyr Kendzierski were married in Chicago and saw firsthand the danger and frustration that accompanies outdated legal documents. Kathy was forced to experience the trauma of sifting through red tape and medical bureaucracy at the risk of outing her partner in the midst of a serious health scare while facing significant, long-term care decisions.
When constituents come to their legislators and share real-life experiences, legislatures should be compelled to act. For Kathy, Zephyr and numerous others, the inability to retroactively change documents is dangerous and adheres to an archaic, rigid understanding of gender.
As a member of the Illinois Senate, and long time advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, it is stories like Kathy and Zephyr's that remind me that equality is still a project in the making. Even in Illinois instances of public schools denying transgender youth the right to use the restroom that matches their gender identity continue. Among K-12 students who were out or perceived as transgender, 54% reported verbal harassment, 25% were physically attacked and 13% were sexually assaulted.
The choices we make, the messages we send and the resources we allocate for transgender youth in our communities will determine whether they have a safe and affirming future. Investing in youth centers, establishing gender-neutral bathrooms and requiring LGBTQ+-inclusive school curriculums are projects that cannot wait.
Fifty-two years have passed since the Stonewall Riots. Two transgender activists of color, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, sparked a movement that would change history forever. This June, as we celebrate PRIDE, let's honor their memory by affirming the identity of their transgender siblings across the country.