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Bryan proposes legislation to allow for change of gender designation on identifying documents

Participants carry a rainbow flag during the St. Croix Pride Parade in Christiansted in June 2019.
STXPride Facebook page
Participants carry a rainbow flag during the St. Croix Pride Parade in Christiansted in June 2019.

ST. CROIX — Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has submitted to the Legislature proposed legislation to allow for the change of gender designation on identifying documents upon receipt of an order of the Superior Court.

Adults seeking a change of gender designation on a birth certificate or other government-issued identification for themselves or on behalf of their minor child would be required to file a petition for gender marker change with the Superior Court, according to the proposed legislation.

The process would involve obtaining a statement from a licensed health care provider and possibly a court hearing if required by the judge responsible for evaluating the petition.

Members of two nonprofit organizations that advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and have organized a series of events this month in observation of Pride Month expressed gratitude for the governor’s proposed legislation but noted challenges faced by transgender people in obtaining legal recognition of their gender identity.

Members of both organizations, St. Croix Pride and PFLAG St. Thomas, raised issues around privacy, safety, and accessibility. They discussed removing the medical documentation requirements outlined in the proposed legislation. They agreed members of the LGBTQ+ community should be involved in the process as senators debate the governor’s proposal.

“Obviously, we have our issues with it and there are aspects that really need to be addressed, but overall this is a conversation that we've continued to have for a really long time now about the need to have this kind of access in the Virgin Islands, so just knowing that it is actually being moved on is absolutely incredible,” Imani Evans, St. Croix Pride president, said. “It's really, really fantastic news.”

Andrew Seeber, a St. Croix Pride board member and transgender sociology professor at the University of the Virgin Islands, said the medical approach to gender transition notes that everyone’s transition is very different, adding that there are a lot of people who do not get surgery or use hormone replacement therapy for various reasons.

“I think that there are some serious challenges if there are requirements like that in terms of allowing gender change,” Seeber said, acknowledging that an administrative process for gender verification exists. “But at the end of the day, the one and only person who can tell you what their gender is, is that person.”

The petition for gender marker change must be accompanied by a statement, signed under penalty of perjury, from a licensed health care provider who has treated or evaluated the individual seeking a change of gender designation, according to the governor’s proposal. The statement must indicate that the individual has either undergone surgical, hormonal, or other treatment appropriate for the purpose of gender transition, based on contemporary medical standards, or that the individual has an intersex condition, and the health care provider’s professional opinion is that the gender designation should be changed. A statement from a health care provider would not be required if an individual has received a judicial order from another jurisdiction changing gender designation.

Attorney Andrew Hammond, PFLAG St. Thomas secretary, said a lot of states do not require a medical provider to certify someone’s gender identity.

“It’s done in a lot of states where you just simply put in the request to the court, and you’re gonna get it granted,” Hammond said. “And I think that the simpler the method, the fewer hoops for people to jump through, the better because we have lives to live and we shouldn’t be wasting it, trying to make everyone else respect us.”

A Superior Court judge would be required to evaluate any petition for gender marker change along with the accompanying medical statement and issue an order granting the change upon a finding that the petition is complete and satisfactory, according to the proposed legislation. A judge may require a hearing prior to the issuance of an order if the court deems it necessary to evaluate the authenticity of the documentation provided. If a name change is requested in the petition, the court, upon adjudging the gender marker change may also adjudge such change of name without further notice.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. and his daughter Sumayah show their pride while carrying miniature rainbow flags down Strand Street in Frederiksted in 2022.
Bryan Roach 2022 Facebook page
Governor Albert Bryan Jr. and his daughter Sumayah show their pride while carrying miniature rainbow flags down Strand Street in Frederiksted in 2022.

An order of the Superior Court granting gender marker change, including any corresponding name change, is sufficient to request change of any identification document issued by the Virgin Islands government. The issuing department must comply with the gender marker change request upon receipt of such an order.

Seeber, who has had a couple different name changes, raised a concern about gender name changes being publicized.

“We need to recognize that for trans people that is wildly dangerous; incredibly, incredibly dangerous because if you’re asking them to post a differently-gendered name for any length of time, it very much opens them up to significant issues of violence,” Seeber said. “Unless there is some sort of compelling reason why a gender marker change, or why a name change would have to be publicly displayed, I think that there are a whole lot of very realistic reasons why it should not be.”

If a court hearing is a necessary component for a name change, Seeber suggested it would need to be done in a way where the privacy of trans people is maintained for their own safety.

Pamela Toussaint, PFLAG St. Thomas vice president and AARP in the Virgin Islands associate state director for Advocacy and Outreach, said the process needs to be as easy as possible, so individuals are comfortable when it comes to filing a petition for gender marker change, especially if a court hearing is required.

Muria Nisbett, PFLAG St. Thomas president, questioned what kind of training would be provided in the judicial branch if individuals seeking a change of gender designation will be required to go through the Superior Court.

“Who’s going to make sure that everybody is trained in the right way to do this?” Nisbett asked. “So that will be my only concern, providing training on the back end of it.”

An applicant requesting an amended birth certificate must submit a copy of the order granting gender marker change to the VI Department of Health, Office of Vital Records and Statistics. VRS would have 30 days to update its records, including any corresponding name change, and produce an amended birth certificate. A copy of the birth certificate must be provided to the applicant upon payment of the required fee.

Individuals who legally change their names or move to a new address after applying for and/or receiving a vehicle registration or driver’s license must notify the VI Bureau of Motor Vehicles director in writing of any such changes within 30 days.

Now that the governor has submitted his proposed legislation for consideration by the Legislature, the members of St. Croix Pride and PFLAG St. Thomas expressed a desire to be included in the vetting process.

“I’m hoping that we would have an opportunity to, whether it's to testify or be able to provide some sort of commentary where we can really, truly make the legislation something that’s for us, that’s about us, and that really protects the people dem in the community,” Toussaint said.

Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. said the governor submitted the proposed legislation in February. He said it was immediately forwarded to the legal counsel’s office to be drafted into a bill, a process he noted typically takes between three to four months. Once the bill gets drafted, he said he would offer it on behalf of the governor.

“So that’s going through the process currently, and as soon as I’m able to get legal counsel’s office to complete the drafting and it’s actually put into a bill, it will be heard,” Francis said, adding that the Legislature will display the rainbow flag on its grounds on both St. Croix and St. Thomas this month in observance of Pride Month.

Tom Eader is the Chief Reporter for WTJX. Originally from South Bend, Indiana, Eader received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Ball State University, where he wrote for his college newspaper. He moved to St. Croix in 2003, after landing a job as a reporter for the St. Croix Avis. Eader worked at the Avis for 20 years, as both a reporter and photographer, and served as Bureau Chief from 2013 until their closure at the beginning of 2024. Eader is an award-winning journalist, known for his thorough and detailed reporting on multiple topics important to the Virgin Islands community. Joining the WTJX team in January of 2024, Eader brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the newsroom. Email: | Phone: 340-227-4463