Cambridge votes to add gender neutral option to birth certificates

The Cambridge City Council voted unanimously last Monday to draft a home-rule petition allowing residents to amend birth certificates to a third gender category, “X,” rather than male or female, as well as streamlining the change process.

The proposed bill is intended to accommodate residents who identify as neither exclusively male nor female and to lift current requirements for medical documentation for all transgender people seeking to change their gender designation.

Councillor Alanna Mallon said at the meeting, “This designation would be a signal to our transgender and non-binary conforming community that their municipal leaders and city government care about them and respect their gender identity.”

Once drafted by the city solicitor, the local law will require approval from the state legislature. Last June, a statewide bill allowing an “X” gender marker on driver’s licenses passed the Senate but its vote in the House of Representatives is still unscheduled.

Mayor Marc McGovern said in a phone interview that he brought the proposal to the council after seeing similar legislation pass in New York City. Councillors Denise Simmons, Sumbul Siddiqui and Alanna Mallon sponsored the proposal in addition to McGovern.

While the New York law that inspired the move in Cambridge does not allow parents to choose an “X” on their children’s birth certificates at birth, McGovern said he supports including that option in the home-rule petition. He said it would require further discussion from the council to work out details in the drafting process.

Potential complications in using a gender-neutral birth certificate to apply for documents like passports have little precedent, but the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles is already preparing a system to allow drivers to select a non-binary marker.

McGovern said, “When you’re trying to change something at the local level that hopefully will inspire change further up the political ladder, you always end up with a little bit of ambiguity around how this is all going to fit together. Some of that you can plan for and some of it you have to deal with as you go.”

Nearly 90 percent of Cambridge voters supported Ballot Question 3 in November’s mid-term election, voting to preserve a 2016 transgender protection law.

“The feedback [on the proposal] from the Cambridge community has been very positive,” McGovern said. “Unfortunately we have received some rather hateful and discriminatory feedback from folks from other places.”

Nathanael King is an intern and writer with Spare Change News.