You can change your name, but in many states you can’t completely get rid of your old name — something that’s of particular concern to transgender people and that lawmakers in at least two states are trying to change.

Account in Washington allow gender expression and identity as a basis for sealing or leaving open a future name change petition. And a California The draft law provides for the sealing of petitions of minors to change their name and gender in identity documents.

In states where such petitions are not sealed, transgender people may be susceptible to cyberbullying or even physical abuse because their previous names, and by extension, their lives, are an open book in the public record, advocates warn. Students, for example, can easily find and share such records when they’re looking for information on the new kid in town, one advocate noted.

Maya Xiao, a graduate student at the University of Washington, changed her name in that state and said posting a transgender friend’s name change on an online forum led to unrelenting harassment, including hate mail. Last summer, she wrote to Democratic Sen. Jamie Pedersen calling for reform.

“I think it’s very close,” said Xiao, who did not reveal her friend’s name, citing privacy concerns. “I don’t live much on the internet, but it’s scary to know that something so personal can be accessed so easily by transphobic trolls who want to cause harm.”

Pedersen supports the Washington law, which passed the Senate this month with bipartisan support and is expected to pass the House as well. The bill is modeled after laws in New York and Oregon and would also extend document privacy to refugees, emancipated minors and people who have received asylum.

Currently, only people who have experienced domestic violence can easily change their name in Washington. Some other states, including California, also make exceptions for victims of crimes such as human trafficking, stalking and sexual assault.

“It seemed like a simple action that could go a long way toward making transgender people a lot safer in our state,” Pedersen said.

Some officials and law enforcement officials worry that criminals who request name changes could avoid liability under the proposals. Washington’s bill would allow courts to open name change files when law enforcement has reasonable suspicion, and sex offenders and incarcerated people would still not be eligible for sealed name changes.

“This is not the intent of the bill, and such cases will be rare, but procedures should be in place to prevent this,” Jennifer Wallace, executive director of the Washington Association of County Officials, said in an email.

The approaches in Washington and California stand in stark contrast to recent cryptic moves in Florida and Texas compile lists of trans residents using public records, and as lawmakers in at least 39 states consider a stream of anti-trans bills.

“Disturbing” Republican requests for data on transgender residents in some of those states add urgency to his proposal, Pedersen said.

Texas Attorney General’s Office Ken Paxton last year requested data on how many people changed the gender information on their driver’s licenses. The Texas Department of Public Safety identified more than 16,000 gender changes over the past two years, but did not release the data because it could not determine the reason for each change.

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked state universities for data on students who sought or received treatment for gender dysphoria. Neither Paxton nor DeSantis explained why they requested the data.

Advocates say harassment over such disclosures can primarily affect young trans people struggling with mental health issues or gender dysphoria. The same online forum that Xiao said targeted her friend last year has come under fire for incidents of trans people doxxing, or the malicious posting of their personal information online, and has been linked to suicides.

Peers can search for students’ names when they transfer to a new middle or high school and can easily find and share court records related to their name and gender change petitions, said Kathy Mollig, executive director of the San Diego nonprofit TransFamily Support Services. She approached California Assembly Speaker Chris Ward with the idea for the bill after the students she advises brought the trend to her attention.

Many families with trans children don’t even know that such records are public, Mollig said.

“A person’s gender identity is something they are born with — it’s intimate,” she said. “They deserve the right to privacy.”

The California bill, which was introduced last month and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, would require the state to seal any petition filed by a person under 18 to change their sex and gender or sex, gender and name on identification documents. . Documents from the applicant’s trial will also be sealed.

San Diego attorney Clarissa Barelett, whose 11-year-old son is transgender, said that simply typing his name into a search engine indicates a legal gender change.

Until he was 6 years old, he insisted that he could not be called a girl and would grow up to be a man, Burrell said. He came out as transgender at the age of 8 and changed his name and the pronouns he used at school before his mum went to court to change his identity documents.

Burrell said she believes these records should be closed to children and adults to better protect their privacy.

Ward, a San Diego County Democrat and vice chair of the California LGBTQ Legislature, said he hopes his bill will reduce the risk of gender-nonconforming children being bullied. He noted that being an outsider can be especially traumatic for young people who are not yet defining their identity.

“I want them to be comfortable,” Ward said, “and be able to be themselves.”


Associated Press writer Paul Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report. Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Austin, Sacramento, California are members of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Reporting for America is a nonprofit national outreach program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported issues.

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