Violet Rue had no idea there were words for what she would later know to be true about herself: that she didn’t identify with her birth gender.
Rue, a transgender woman, grew up in what she calls the “rural-suburban hodgepodge” of Canby, Oregon. She says gender roles were strictly enforced at school and at home. Looking back, she knows she had internalized the stigma associated with being LGBTQ.
“I didn’t know what a transgender person was. I didn’t even know what gay people were,” Rue said. “I just knew that you weren’t supposed to be [those things].”
Rue sought out what few resources she could find in rural Oregon about “those things” — those words — that seemed to explain her identity better than the words that had long defined her.
At 17, Rue began her transition from male to female. And at 19, she became one of the first people to take advantage of an Oregon law that makes it simpler for the state to legally recognize gender changes.
“To be able to basically eliminate the record of me ever having been someone that I really didn’t think I was is really cool,” Rue said.
The law, known as HB 2673A, went into effect Jan. 2 and allows transgender people to change their sex and name on their birth certificate through a notarized application process, without having to go to court.
Prior to the law’s passage, a transgender person hoping to change their gender identity on a birth certificate underwent a public process that, advocates say, put them at risk.
The process included a hearing in open court and a public name and gender change notice. Some feared such a public process discouraged transgender people from obtaining identification that accurately reflects their gender identity.
The Oregon Health Authority has been charged with implementing the new law, which was signed by Gov. Kate Brown in May last year. In the past year, OHA saw about 120 people coming in to do a name and gender change through the court process. Jennifer Woodward, the state registrar for vital records with the OHA says she expects that number to rise under the new law.
“With any new law — and it is actually a streamlined process because it’s just a notarized application versus going through the court process — we expect people to take advantage,” Woodward said.
The law allows people like Rue to simply download a form off the internet and process their papers privately by mailing them in or visiting an OHA office. Health officials say nothing on the amended birth certificates will reveal that a person’s gender designation has been changed.
“In the future, if I’m applying for a job, no one’s going to see, ‘Oh, this person transitioned. This person is transgender,’” Rue said.
Basic Rights Oregon, which helped advocate for the law, says HB 2673A is the first standalone transgender equality bill in the state.
To get something like this implemented, Woodward says OHA held weekly planning meetings and underwent training, including transgender inclusion training with Basic Rights Oregon to help the agency work with a community with which it hadn’t had much interaction before.
“It’s an entirely new procedure for us,” Woodward said. “We had to implement new forms, new processes, new changes to our system.”
The changes are new for Rue, too. She’ll be able to toss out her mismatched identification cards that have long confused schools and insurance companies of her identity.
“Getting this change allowed me to better identify with the person I know myself to be,” she said.