Utah Introduces Anti-Trans ‘Sex Fixed At Conception’ Bill

A Utah lawmaker has introduced legislation that would bar trans people from officially changing their gender by designating sex as being fixed at conception.

Republican Representative Merrill F. Nelson authored the legislation, known as H.B. 153 or the Utah Vital Statistics Act Amendments.

Nelson’s legislation would still allow people to procure a change of name by going through the courts, but it would nix the ability to change gender markers. The legislation does this by stating that (emphasis mine): “‘Sex’ means male or female, the innate and immutable characteristics established at conception and that can be confirmed before or at birth.”

Of course, this piggybacks on anti-abortion rhetoric and that is nakedly clear using the term “conception” as though it is the start of personhood. We have seen laws on life at conception across the Untied States, so this is by now, sadly, not that surprising. However, linking gender and conception is relatively new, and it is as concerning as it is anti-science.

To be clear, there is a point at or just after fertilization where doctors can identify chromosomal sex. However, chromosomal sex is very different from what we would usually think of as our human sex characteristics Human sex characteristics are most typically related to gonadal sex, our reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics, like men typically having deeper voices or women having less prominent jawlines. These occur far later in development and fluctuate widely based on a number of factors.

What’s more, Nelson’s bill seems to take for granted that chromosomal sex is a simple black and white matter of 46XX or 46XY. It is not, and there are many variations that give people a mix of characteristics. For example, 46XX male syndrome renders this definition at best fraught with problems and at worse unusable as a legal standard, because it is so narrow it would essentially class people who fall outside of this as either devoid of sex, as the wrong sex or as some kind of genetic “other”.

It also refuses to acknowledge the existence of intersex and sex indeterminate people as groups who may have characteristics typically associated with the male and female human average. This is doubly dangerous, as it would reinforce the idea that intersex people should be assigned a gender as close to birth as possible—something that major health bodies have said is harmful and, unless there are other underlying health complications, unnecessary.

The legislation then goes on to define “male” and “female” as hinging on the internal and external sex organs. The legislation goes in to great detail about these as the means by which people conceive yet more children.

There are many criticisms of this as a piece of legislation, but for one it completely ignores the recognized facts about gender. Gender is at least partly (though not completely) a social construct that may align with our sex characteristics but is, in fact, not dependent upon them.

Nelson is on record as defending his bill, saying,  ”It is a fiction to change the sex designation on a birth certificate—a vital record—based on fluctuating gender.”

That “fiction” is working perfectly well in many states already, and in fact in many places across the world, chiefly because it is not fiction but rather the right to self-determine and assert one’s identity. For a lawmaker from a party that is supposed to be about small government, Rep. Nelson should understand the importance of shielding that right.

Nelson goes on to say, “The birth certificate records ‘sex,’ not ‘gender identity. Therefore, gender identity should not be used to change the sex designation on the birth certificate.”

This apes the notion that trans people switch genders regularly. Science has already shown that trans people show remarkable consistency, even from a young age, at displaying their gender identity. Furthermore, it plays sleight of hand to conflate gender and sex and then to try to say they are two different things and therefore cannot be recorded as having changed via amendments to a birth certificate.

It is also misleading to suggest, as Nelson seems to be doing, that Utah doesn’t already issue new birth certificates. As others have pointed out, it already does so without incident, and not just for trans people (which is already a needlessly unclear process in the state). For example, adoptions in the state require a new birth certificate to be issued. There is a longstanding infrastructure in place that deals with this kind of alteration.

Rep. Nelson is using this legislation to define away the very existence of trans people while riding on the coattails of the egregiously successful anti-abortion movement. This is an act of ideological violence that attempts to rob trans people of their right to have their identity officially recognized, which would have the knock on effect of barring them from accurate identification. That could threaten their job security, their housing, their educational opportunities and potentially their ability to acquire other forms of ID, like a driver’s license or passport.

Take Action

Nelson’s legislation fails both in terms of legal rigor but—much more importantly—in terms of basic humanity, and it cannot be allowed to pass. Please sign and share this petition standing with trans and gender variant people in Utah and call on Utah’s House and Senate to reject this legislation now!

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.


Photo credit: Getty Images.


Hannah A
Hannah Aabout a month ago


Frances G
Carla G1 months ago


Kevin B
Kevin B1 months ago

Signed. Thank you.

Emma L
Ellie L1 months ago

Thank you

Thomas M
Thomas M1 months ago


Greta L
Alice L1 months ago

thank you for sharing

Elaine W
Elaine W2 months ago

Why don't they introduce bills to help people instead of torture them. Nasty,mean and unnecessary. I signed of course.

Maria P
Martha P2 months ago

I signed

Emma L
Ellie L2 months ago

thank you for posting

Sophie A
Sarah A2 months ago