by Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor
All name changes filed with the New Jersey Department of Treasury will be exempt from public records request and treated as confidential under an executive order Gov. Phil Murphy signed Wednesday during Transgender Awareness Week.
The governor also voiced his support of a new bill that would waive the $50 fee people must file to change their names.
“A person’s name change can be a critical step in gender transition or affirmation of their gender identity, but many who wish to change their name have legitimate safety and privacy concerns with maintaining legal records of their name change,” Murphy said in a statement.
A draft of the bill wasn’t immediately available. The measure was introduced this week in both chambers by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union) and Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex). Quijano said in a statement it would “eliminate the financial barrier” standing in the way of New Jersey residents.
The state Supreme Court amended its rules almost two years ago to exclude name change records from public access and reinforced that privacy in a February ruling. This week’s executive order puts the Department of Treasury’s administrative procedures in line with the state Judiciary branch.
The executive order allows exceptions to the rule where “good cause” is shown or when the requester is the person who changed their name, or their parent or guardian if they are a minor.
Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality, applauded the governor for ensuring “someone’s personal journey is kept confidential.”
New Jersey is among the first states to protect name changes as confidential, at a time when transgender rights are under attack in other states. More than 30 states have legislation pending that would restrict the rights or medical care of transgender individuals and youth.
Only 11% of 27,000 people polled in the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey had their preferred name and gender on all IDs and records. A quarter of people reported they were verbally harassed after showing an ID with a name or gender that did not match their presentation, and 16% were denied services, benefits, or asked to leave an establishment.
New Jersey is one of 20 states offering the “X” gender marker on a driver’s license for people who do not identify as male or female. The state Medicaid policy also covers transgender-related healthcare, including reassignment surgery.