Lawmakers raise concerns with gender-change bill

ESTEVES: Sen. Fernando Esteves is pictured during legislative session at the Guam Congress Building in this March 12 file photo. The senator is the author of Bill 291-34, which allows the Office of Vital Statistics under the Department of Public Health and Social Services to amend an individual's gender on his or her birth certificate to the one with which they identify. Post file photo

During Tuesday's legislative session, lawmakers set aside a bill allowing transgender individuals to legally change their gender marker on their birth certificates. First senators must clarify matters raised regarding the bill's implications for medical and law enforcement processes.

Bill 291-34, introduced by Sen. Fernando Esteves, authorizes the Office of Vital Statistics under the Department of Public Health and Social Services to amend an individual's gender on his or her birth certificate to the one with which they identify.

The Office of Vital Statistics is mandated by law to register, certify and maintain records of vital events that occur on Guam, including births. Under current statutes, the office must "prescribe by regulation the conditions under which additions or minor corrections shall be made to birth certificates."

During session, Esteves said, "People don't realize the simple thing of having issues getting a driver's license, having issues getting housing or the awkward conversations because a transgender person comes in for a job application dressed as a woman – how they identify – but their driver's license says 'male.' " As a source document, Esteves said, everything is derived from the birth certificate, from an individual's driver's license to passport and Social Security card.

Questions over 'medical risks'

Sen. Michael San Nicolas said he fully respects how people want to identify. However, he said, he wants to ensure certain medical concerns are addressed in the bill.

"What are the safeguards to make sure that we are not creating unique medical risks?" San Nicolas asked. "Because organ transplant between sexes poses higher risks."

Esteves said comprehensive lab tests usually are done during the organ-donation process.

"Perhaps this is something that we can set aside and have a firm answer as to whether or not changing the sex on a birth certificate could complicate the identification of whether or not an organ is less suitable for transplant from donor to donee," San Nicolas said.

San Nicolas made a motion to set aside the bill to get a clear understanding on the medical concerns. The motion did not pass.

Law enforcement concerns

Sen. Joe San Agustin also raised a law enforcement-related concern. In particular, he asked how a transgender individual would be assessed and taken into the appropriate detention facility.

"Being a former police officer, they do a shakedown of the individual that was arrested before you go into confinement," San Agustin said. "If they determine that you are of the opposite sex of what your identification recognizes you as – does it cause the government to follow the ID or your physical appearance on where they put you?"

Esteves said this is supposed to be part of the continuing training of peace officers and law enforcement officers. He acknowledged that the issue continues to be discussed at state and federal levels.

Biscoe Lee: Measure needs more time

Sen. Régine Biscoe Lee commended the author of the bill saying, "l think that it's very important that we create a space to have these discussions."

"While I'm grateful that we're having this discussion, I also feel that this measure really needs additional time, but additional resources need to be put in place to provide that continuing education to emergency first responders, to medical and legal professionals, as well as our law enforcement professionals," she said.

Biscoe Lee introduced another motion to set aside the bill. Esteves did not object to the second motion.

"I do not object to the motion to set it aside on this agenda, but I hope that we do so in the spirit of compromise, in the spirit of understanding," Esteves said. "Get all the answers provided so that I can get all my colleagues the answer to help them make their decision."

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