SALT LAKE CITY — Her 4-year-old daughter now is confident and happy, but Amie Schofield fears the girl's self-assurance will fade.
The intersex child identifies as a girl, but her birth certificate indicates she is a boy. And as Utah lawmakers consider guidelines for how Utahns can legally change their gender in the courts, Schofield wants them to keep in mind her daughter, Victory, who was born with both male and female characteristics.
If the girl is not able to one day match the document to the gender she knows herself to be, "she will start carrying the shame that comes with being outside what society has chosen for her," Schofield, of Ogden, told members of a legislative panel Wednesday at the Utah Capitol.
Utahns have long had the option to petition a judge to have their gender changed on their birth certificates, but judges lack guidance from the Legislature, said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. He sponsored an unsuccessful bill that sought to set the standards last year.
Weiler said judges in some areas, and specifically in Salt Lake County, will grant almost any application, but in other districts, they will deny most any petition.
"There's really no uniformity. A judge can make up their own rules and grant or deny whatever the applicant is asking," Weiler said. "The world has moved. The landscape has shifted. The Legislature has remained silent, so we have judges and executive branch employees reacting to those changes with no guidance from the Legislature."
The Judiciary Interim Committee voted to continue the discussion on the measure. Rep. Merrill Nelson, the Grantsville Republican and lone panel member to vote no, suggested Utah disallow the change altogether.
Weiler noted that last year's version failed following lengthy discussion and sometimes emotional debate, in large part because people on both sides of the issue were unhappy with his bill.
Many LGBT advocates believed the measure didn't go far enough because it pertained only to those older than 18, therefore not allowing 16-year-olds to make the change before they receive drivers' licenses, he said. He said several Republican lawmakers opposed the measure, believing it went too far.
Drew Armstrong, of Pleasant Grove, told the panel his son Tyler, who is transgender, is "just another one of the guys." That reality now is reflected on his birth certificate after a judge signed off on a name and gender change in February, Armstrong said.
"They just want to be treated like any other kid," the father said of Tyler and the boy's peers after the hearing.
The Utah Supreme Court heard arguments in January from two Utahns who sought to have their birth certificates match their gender identity but were refused by judges. No ruling has been issued.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he had concerns about a new law taking effect before the court decision, especially if the court rules on a constitutional issue.
"My frustration with this bill, No. 1, is I didn't find anyone who liked it," Hillyard added. "I found that both sides were adamantly opposed to the bill."
Despite the controversy, a growing number of Utahns are having their birth certificates altered to indicate the gender they identify with, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Fifty-seven did so last year, up from just nine in 2012. The yearly high was in 2016, at 66, said Rich Oborn, the registrar and bureau director for the department's vital statistics office. Some of those included in the figures were under the age of 18, he said. And as of July, 36 Utahns had taken home a new certificate with an updated gender classification this year.
Judges can currently choose to order that the new birth certificate indicate a change has been made. By contrast, when adoptions take place or someone changes their name, it generally isn't noted on the document, Weiler said.
Chris Caras, director of the Utah Driver License Division, said his agency issues new licenses based on the birth certificates and passports drivers submit.
"They're not very prevalent, but we do process those periodically," Caras said. Under a Barack Obama-era policy, gender on a passport can be changed with a letter from a doctor, Weiler added.
Ahead of the hearing, the conservative Sutherland Institute submitted a statement supporting the measure, writing that the ambiguity has exposed vulnerable Utahns to inequities in the law. The group wrote that it is "prudent and responsible" for the Legislature to set standards addressing the ambiguity.5 comments on this story
A new proposal Weiler is drafting would require those seeking the change to provide testimony or another form of proof they have identified with the new gender for at least six months, and would prohibit making the change for illegal or fraudulent ends, he said.
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, opposed the bill, saying she believed the criteria, including the six-month period, aren't strong enough, and would essentially take away judges' ability to deny petitions.
"I think the balance is going all to one side," Ruzicka said.
The panel reconvenes Oct. 17.