A birth certificate is just a piece of paper for many people, something they might only think about when they go to the DMV once a year. But for transgender individuals, having a birth certificate that’s misgendered can be demoralizing.
Up until this year, Coloradans had to undergo gender-confirming surgery in order to legally change the name and gender markers on their birth certificates—which were also required to be labeled “amended.” Then, after having legally changed their names, transgender people had to publish the change in a local newspaper three times within 21 days. In the digital age, that meant a person could be outed to potential employers or anyone else via a quick Google search.
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Jude’s Law (House Bill 10-1039)—formally named the 2019 Birth Certificate Modernization Act—changed all that in Colorado when it went into effect earlier this year. Now, a person’s old certificate is destroyed upon request and applicants are issued an entirely new document without any indication of a previous name or gender marker. The namesake of that landmark bill is 13-year-old Jude, who had been lobbying for the change since she came out as transgender at nine years old (Jude’s last name has been withheld for privacy and safety reasons).
In light of the recent news surrounding LGBTQ rights in this country—including a big win from the Supreme Court of the United States and a disappointing move from the White House—we reached out to Jude to talk about her experience testifying in front of Colorado legislators and the work that still lies ahead for advancing LGBTQ rights.
Editor’s Note: We initially spoke with Jude in late February 2020, just before the COVID-19 outbreak. We interviewed her again last month. The following transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity, incorporates both conversations.
5280: You’d been advocating for Jude’s Law since you were nine years old. How did this journey begin?
I was just sitting in the living room and playing with my Littlest Pet Shops and my Barbies, and just out of the blue told my mom and my sister that I feel more like a girl than a boy. And my mom and sister had no idea what that meant. So they went on the internet and looked up a long list of definitions—they got to the definition of “transgender” and I was like “That’s it.” And the next day we were shopping for new clothes.
[When we moved up to the Boulder area], I wanted to tell my class that I was trans and be totally transparent with them. We went to this mini “How to Tell Your Story” thing with One Colorado, and after that, they emailed us and said, “Hey there’s this bill that could potentially help you. Would you be interested in testifying?”
Why was it important for you to advocate for that bill, even at such a young age?
For me, it was just one of those things like, “Duh, why not?” If I can help people and myself why wouldn’t I do that?
What are some specific challenges you faced, and how did you approach them?
One challenge was facing a few people who were going against what we were advocating for, and that was definitely hard for me to digest, especially at a young age. As I grew up, I got more confidence in myself and got more comfortable in testifying, too. I think my biggest challenge was just overcoming the people who were voting “no” each year and the people who were testifying against us.
Did you have much interaction with those voters outside of the legislative sessions?
One time I was in an elevator, and one of [the legislators] misgendered me, and that was really like, “Woah!” The people in our Capitol would misgender me? That’s insane. But one of the really cool things that had happened—I think in 2019—I had a Republican come up to me and was like, “I voted no on this bill [previously], and I’ve seen you testify, and I’ve seen what this means to you, and I’m in support of this bill.”
What was it like to get your birth certificate changed this year?
When that day came, it didn’t really hit me at first. I thought that it would get mailed out later—I didn’t think it was going to get made on the spot. But once I got in there, the level of energy went way up. They give you the old birth certificate, and since they have to destroy it, they let you do whatever you want with it first. So I ripped mine into pieces.
What did it feel like to finally have documentation that more closely aligns with your identity?
I guess it’s just a [piece of] paper, but I think in society there’s a lot of significance in labels. And for some people, labels can feel safe and comfortable. I think that having a birth certificate that matches you is another piece of the puzzle. In my mind it’s not a label for me, it’s just part of putting everything together in my life like hormone blockers, the birth certificate, the passport—all of these things just kind of move together.
What does the passage of the bill say about Colorado?
Well, we used to be known as the “hate state,” so I think it’s insane how much that’s turned around. I think it says how much of a strong community we have here, and it shows the power of people’s voices. By sitting down and sharing your story and the journey you’ve been on in life—how much power those words have.
Since Jude’s Law passed last year, what has the response been from the LBGTQ community?
I think a lot of people still don’t know about the law or how to use it, which I think is why it’s so important to spread the word. I’ve met other kiddos who’ve gotten their birth certificates changed, and they’ve just had a lot of excitement. I think also putting your mind at ease, too. Without a birth certificate, you still can’t change the deep, deep files in your school or other places. Being able to officially change that, and knowing that your old name and gender aren’t anywhere, feels really good.
What’s next in your advocacy work? Are there other issues on your radar now?
I’m thinking of getting some sort of organization put together for change advocacy—like getting on social media to spread the word about these certain topics. Spreading kindness and love, too. I know that some people think that’s totally cheesy, but I think that it’s essential in our community these days. The fact that people aren’t supported in their own families is crazy to me, and I think that we need to be supporting them.
I’m also working with U.S. Senator [Michael] Bennet to push Jude’s Law nationally, to become a federal law. The birth certificate is a state document, not federal, so we can’t change it on a federal level. I’m working with Senator Bennet on a work-around. Our plan is to get the passport to be equivalent to the birth certificate, and then have a Jude’s Law–like legislation created for passports.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace is illegal. Around the same time, the Trump administration rolled back protections against discrimination in healthcare. What do you think of the current political climate surrounding LGBTQ rights?
I think a lot of people who are discriminating against the transgender community are scared because they don’t understand—and it’s important to have empathy for those who aren’t educated about these issues. It’s really sad for me to see, but I’m also really frustrated by it, too. The fact that you can be denied [healthcare] just for living as your true self is outrageous.
All the positive news that’s been happening lately, though, is what keeps me going in my advocacy work. [The supreme court decision] was amazing! It was a huge celebration that day, which I think is really what we needed. In such times of disconnect, it’s really important to have something to celebrate. I don’t think people know the degree of how much discrimination goes on in the workplace, whether it be direct or indirect. State. Rep. Leslie Herod’s Gay Panic Defense Ban also just went through after being on hold for a while. The fact that this passed brings a smile to my face. I’m hoping that we can get change done with this momentum.