SENATE PRESIDENT KAREN Spilka took the rare step Thursday of appearing before her colleagues to argue for passage of a bill — in this case a measure to benefit non-binary residents that was jammed up at the eleventh hour last session.
The bill Spilka supports would create a new non-binary gender classification of X instead of M or F on state IDs, including driver’s licenses. It would also allow for the alteration of a person’s gender listed on birth records to X at the request of the person or in the case of a child, their parents.
“This is about validating and letting people be who they are,” Spilka told the Transportation Committee, according to her prepared remarks. “Not everyone fits neatly into the traditional categories of ‘male’ or ‘female,’ and people can face discrimination, harassment and other challenges when the gender on their ID doesn’t match their true lived gender identity.”
Senate presidents have historically signaled support for legislation through a range of high-profile or subtler cloaked actions. It is somewhat unusual for a Senate president to actually testify in front of a legislative committee. Spilka said she does not plan to testify on very many bills this session.
“This one is very important to me,” Spilka said. “This is a matter of civil rights.”
The gender issue became a priority for Spilka last session after she received a letter from El, a non-binary teenage constituent who was looking ahead to obtaining a driver’s license. As Spilka took the reins of the Senate last July as its new president, she touted a gender X bill that she hoped would become law, but it sputtered in the ensuing days – which were the last formal sessions of the year – and failed to reach the governor’s desk.
Rep. David Linsky, a Natick Democrat, who sponsored a similar bill this session, blamed Jim Lyons, who was then a state representative and is now the chairman of the state Republican party, for gumming up the process last year by filing non-serious amendments to the bill.
“He in a not-so-funny, tongue-in-cheek way, I have to say, filed about 20 different amendments identifying in his own mind what different gender possibilities might be,” said Linsky. If the House had taken up the gender X bill in the last formal session of 2018, it would have “prohibited the House from taking up any other business,” Linsky said.
As Lyons remembers it, the bill reached the House late at night in the last formal session of the year, and he filed dozens of amendments that would recognize multiple other genders – though he believes there are only two.
“Maybe we ought to have an open and transparent discussion about what X means and what are the genders we’re talking about,” Lyons said. “I view the world as male and female. If they view it differently, then bring the argument. Discuss it.”
Lyons said the late night end-of-session push for passage was typical.
“This is exactly what they’ve done for years is tried to ram things through at the last minute,” Lyons said.
There was also speculation last year that, in the last day of formal session, Spilka held up passage of bill reauthorizing horse racing and simulcast betting because she was upset the House hadn’t passed the gender X bill.
Thursday’s hearing, which was the first this year for the Transportation Committee, and one of the first overall, gives the gender X bill a fast start this session, and Spilka said she hopes it will reach Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk soon.
“The Senate is hoping to take it up in the next couple of weeks, and the House hopefully will take it up,” Spilka told reporters outside the hearing.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo did not say how the speaker views the bill and whether the House plans to take it up soon.
El, a 17-year-old Natick resident, also testified and spoke to reporters afterwards alongside Spilka, Linsky and bill sponsor Northampton Sen. Joanne Comerford. El, who is currently taking driving lessons, now hopes to have a driver’s license within the year.
“I would want my license to read X. For the time being, I don’t know whether I would choose M or F. I would want to refrain from that choice,” El told reporters. “I don’t think that the state should be making me choose between two options that don’t represent myself.”