Following in the footsteps of Texas and Virginia, Indiana this week became the latest Republican-controlled state to take up transphobic legislation. But rather than target a trans person’s right to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, a bill in the Indiana House of Representatives sought to deny their right to officially identify as that gender in the first place.
(UPDATE: Late on Friday, state officials quashed the measure, citing "additional priority issues." Scroll down for their full statement.)
House Bill 1361, introduced by State Representative, and noted Elvis impersonator, Brice Borders (R-45) provided that "subject to certain exceptions, the gender listed on an individual's birth certificate and permanent record made from the birth certificate may not be changed."
Those "exceptions"? Typos, and DNA testing.
In other words, trans people seeking to align their official state paperwork with their gender identity would be totally barred from doing so. That's a serious impediment to being assigned the correct gender on things like driver's licenses, passports, and social security IDs. It would also be an official, government-sponsored slap in the face to people merely seeking to live their lives as openly and truthfully as possible.
Speaking on the phone, Rep. Borders explained to me that his intent was not to impede gender transitioning. Rather, he insisted, HB 1361 was created after he was notified by a someone who "works with legal documents" who alerted him to the trend of people changing their birth certificates due to sex.
"I said 'well, that's a recording basically of a legal medical event,'" he explained. "It has your height, your weight, your hair color, your eye color, your race—y'know, whether you're Caucasian, Hispanic, whatever—and so forth."
"It's not designed to do anything against people, regardless of what their sexual persuasion might be later in life," Borders said later. "It's simply protecting the accurate circumstances of a person's birth."
When I asked how he would respond to accusations of transphobia, Borders was adamant that "it's simply not true, and it wasn't designed to do that." He also stressed that the bill was in its infancy, and could very well be tempered with amendments as it progresses through the legislature.
Borders also defended his bill by likening gender identity to race, telling me he'd asked several critics from the press: "What if I decided I wanted to get a minority scholarship to a college, so I just said 'hey, I want my birth records changed to reflect that I was born black as opposed to Caucasian?'"
"Why stop at sex?," he added later. "Why not hair color? Why not eye color? Why not height? Why not weight? Why not the day you were born?"
But critics of the measure don't see it that way. Speaking with EagleCountryOnline, Freedom Indiana campaign manager Chris Paulson blasted the proposal as "discriminatory," and completely unnecessary."
"If passed," Paulson explained, "HB 1361 would further harm Indiana’s already damaged reputation as an open and welcoming state."
WISH notes that currently, Indiana residents who need their permanent documentation altered may currently do so at the state's Division of Vital Statistics, with a judge's order.
In 2015, then-governor, now-Vice-President-elect Mike Pence surreptitiously signed into law a "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," which essentially legalized religious-based discrimination against Indiana's LGBTQ community—a move that led to a firestorm of criticism, tens of millions of losses for the state, and an eventual backtracking by Pence.
Following the initial publication of this story, Indiana state Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer (R-86) sent Fusion a statement saying that the committee she chairs would not be taking up the bill:
As chair of the House Committee on Public Health, I am focused on several priority issues this legislative session including addressing the opioid and heroin epidemic, which is claiming the lives of more and more people every day. Keeping this in mind, I have decided not to hear House Bill 1361.