New Jersey birth certificates now allow people to document a biological sex outside of the traditional male/female binary, and other state government forms might follow suit.

A bill, A4870, endorsed by the Assembly Human Services Committee would require state blanks, documents and applications to be modernized to give people more options and reflect new standards for collecting information about gender and sexual orientation.

In some cases, that might mean no longer asking about an individual’s sex, though the bill’s backers also hope to leads to improved statistics about often overlooked groups.

“In 2019, forms that capture race, ethnicity, national origin, language and socioeconomic status must also collect sexual orientation and gender identity, or SOGI, data to capture LGBTQ populations so that we can make accurately assess and size and need of this population in New Jersey and tailor policy to address disparities faced by LGBTQ New Jerseyans,” said Ashley Chiappano, safe schools coordinator, Garden State Equality.

Chiappano said New Jersey lags behind other states in collecting such information, which complicates efforts to develop things such as state-specific health programs. For instance, it’s one of 17 states that has never implemented the SOGI data collection module on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention behavioral risk factor surveillance survey.

“To understand the needs of any population, it’s critical to collect and assess data,” Chiappano said. “Unfortunately, most federal and state surveys do not collect sexual orientation and gender identity data.”

Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalotti, D-Hudson, said it would be up to individuals whether to disclose that information, to protect their right to privacy.

“I think this is an important element of this, because I think when we do these disclosure documents, right, we want the data for good, but they can also be used for bad,” Chiaravalotti said. “So we need to make sure that the individual is comfortable sharing that information.”

 

The bill advanced by a 6-0 vote, though the committee’s two Republicans raised questions about the potential costs, such as for throwing away all the current printed forms, and privacy.

“You’re actually delving into somebody’s personal life. That’s how I look at it. It’s on a form, a New Jersey form, an application,” said Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, R-Monmouth, who said questions about sexual orientation are different than offering a third choice for gender. “I’m going in for a fishing license, and I have to be asked what my sexual orientation is? I don’t understand that.”

Assemblywoman Joann Downey, D-Monmouth, said it’s an important change but won’t be rushed as officials assess the potential costs involved. The bill was referenced to the appropriations committee.

“It’ll be an ongoing conversation,” Downey said. “But it’s a really good step because it is important to recognize that there are not only male and female when you are there and identifying gender.”

In some cases, questions about an individual’s sex or gender would be prohibited, unless it’s deemed vitally necessary. For instance, Downey questions whether it belongs on job applications.

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