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Michigan changes driver's license policy for transgender people

Mar 16, 2016

Credit Flickr user Praveen / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan has revised its policy for changing a person’s gender on a state driver’s license or identification. 

Until last week, the Secretary of State’s Office required an amended birth certificate. Now Michigan will also accept a U.S. passport or a court order.

According to Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the change makes it easier for transgender people – but doesn’t go far enough.

“To get a gender change on a passport, you need a statement from a physician that the applicant has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for their gender identity,” said Kaplan.

In contrast, changing a Michigan birth certificate requires gender reassignment surgery, and that’s something many transgender people choose not to have or can’t have for cost or medical reasons, said Kaplan. And some states prohibit any change to their birth certificates.

The ACLU of Michigan is representing six transgender people living in Michigan who filed a lawsuit last May against Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to challenge the original policy.

Kaplan said they are still moving forward with the lawsuit despite the recent policy change.

“It’s a big step forward for the transgender population because it will allow many more people,” said Kaplan. “But it’s still not the model that we’re working for.”

Kaplan said ideally Michigan would allow a gender change on a state driver’s license or state ID with the submission to the Secretary of State of an affidavit by a health professional – not necessarily a doctor – that the applicant has undergone treatment for gender transition. Kaplan estimated about 30 states have policies similar to that.

“Not every transgender person can afford a passport or needs a passport,” said Kaplan.

Kaplan said when the gender marker on a driver’s license or state ID does not match a person’s gender identity, it creates serious problems.

“Every time they have to show that piece of identification, it outs them. It forces them to share highly personal information about themselves with perfect strangers,” said Kaplan. “And it also forces them to show an identity document that does not reflect who they are. It doesn’t reflect their gender identity, and it doesn’t reflect their gender expression, their lived gender. And many times because of that, it puts people at risk for not only discrimination but possibly harassment and violence.”