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Having gender identity matched by state ID vital for trans community

Sebastien Wiertz

In our day-to-day probably most of us don’t put much thought to our state documentation: whether that’s birth certificates or driver's licenses.

But if you’re trans these documents can be a big deal, especially when your ID no longer matches who you are.

In March of 2016 the Michigan Secretary of State changed requirements for altering the gender marker on driver’s licenses.

Jay Kaplan is with the ACLU of Michigan, which filed suit against the State over its previous policy for putting gender markers on state IDs.

“We sued the Secretary of State’s office because for years Michigan had an untenable policy with regards to getting an accurate gender marker on your state ID.”

Previously it was only possible to change the gender marker on a driver's license if you first changed it on your birth certificate.

“You can’t get a gender change on your birth certificate unless you undergo gender reassignment surgery which not all transgender people do. They can’t afford it, sometimes it’s not medically necessary, many times in the past their insurance companies wouldn’t cover anything like that.”

That, of course, is to say nothing of the people who just aren’t interested in reassignment surgery but still identify as a gender identity which doesn’t appear on their license.

Kaplan said after the suit the Secretary of State changed the rules so that passports could be used to change the gender on your driver's license.

Changing the gender on your passport does not require reassignment surgery.

“The reason that’s so important is let’s say I’m going to a gas station and I’m charging for gasoline and I have to show my ID if I’m a transgender female and my ID the gender marker says I’m male it automatically outs me as transgender.”

Kaplan said especially in situations where you don’t know that you’re safe, outing yourself can be dangerous.

“It automatically forces me to share highly and personal information about myself with perfect strangers and we know from the statistics that transgender people are more likely to be victims of violence, particularly physical violence.”

“So all of my legal stuff still says my birth name.”

Derek Davis is a trans man living in Mount Pleasant. He hasn’t yet made changes to his ID for his name or gender marker.

“It’s so expensive. I want to get my gender marker changed at the same time, you’re doing all that paperwork might as well do all of it. So it’s around 400 bucks everything said and done to change your name and get your gender marker.”

Davis said the paperwork for a name change alone runs about one hundred and seventy five dollars. And he said, there’s another stipulation.

“You have to pay to put your name change in the newspaper and so you have to say you're changing your name from this to this. And so the way around that, so you’re not outing yourself which is very detrimental, is to pick like a small town that you’ve never been to and they just have to have proof of it. There are ways around these really ridiculous things we have to do.”

Davis worries that despite filing all his paperwork a judge may still refuse the changes.

“Because it ultimately is up to the judge because and that is going to be silly if you’re going to tell me looking the way that I do that I can’t change my name from what it was to Derek. Because it doesn’t suit me.”

Davis said in lots of small ways from cashing checks or using a credit card, showing ID can put him in awkward and potentially unsafe situations.

“Somebody thought I was stealing my own credit card because it has my birth name on it and it was actually really weird because his sister's name was the same first name and same last name as mine and he was like ‘what is this?’ and I was like ‘woah that is mine here is my ID that is my card.”

Jay Kaplan with the ACLU said there are just too many ways that being outed through an ID card outing can open a person up for discrimination.

“It can create a lot of problems. I mentioned outing yourself and having to share highly private information but also encountering this discrimination in employment, having problems with law enforcement if you’re stopped by a police officer and have to present an ID that doesn’t accurately reflect how you’re presenting in your life.”

Kaplan said it’s important that the state make access to these basic changes easier for transgender people.

“There’s no need to make this difficult for people. I as a cisgender male I have no problem. My identity documents reflect who I am. Why should that not be the same for transgender people.”

But, at least in Mount Pleasant, Davis said he feels safe.

“Local businesses I’m friends with a lot of them, the Bird in particular, I know if anything were to happen to me every employee in there would have my back and be right there to have my back if I needed it.”

And for now, he said, having a community and friend group that have his back, isn’t a bad position to be in.