by Jay Kaplan
State Rep. Paul Scott of Grand Blanc is seeking the Republican nomination for Secretary of State. Listed on his Web site as part of his campaign platform, the aspiring heir to Michigan’s Department of State promises to “make it a priority to ensure transgender individuals will not be allowed to change the sex on their driver’s license in any circumstance.”
Hmm … our state is in critical condition; Michigan’s unemployment is double that of the nation; we are drowning in budget deficits; young college graduates are leaving in droves – and Mr. Scott’s priority issue for this statewide election is scapegoating transgender individuals?
Maybe this is just cynical election pandering to create a partisan wedge issue, but at best, Mr. Scott’s promise is an incredibly insensitive misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender. It also brings into question Mr. Scott’s readiness for this position, considering he does not understand the importance of identification documents that accurately reflect a person’s gender identity.
Transgender is an umbrella term for people who identify or express themselves differently from their biological gender. Many transgender persons are diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” or “gender identity” disorder. The recommended treatment is to transition according to gender identity, which can include receiving male or female hormone treatments, living in accordance with one’s gender identity and, in some cases, undergoing sexual reassignment surgery.
A key to a successful transition is to be able to accurately reflect one’s gender identity or expression on identification documents. This would include changing the legal name and gender marker on a driver’s license, state ID, passport, social security card and birth certificate. If these changes are not made, transgender people encounter difficulties seeking employment, using public restrooms, traveling outside of the United States and interacting with law enforcement. As the staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project, I’ve received numerous complaints from transgender people denied employment or fired from their jobs, harassed by police officers and victimized because their identity documents did not properly reflect their gender expression.
As it stands, Michigan’s current laws and policies regarding gender marker changes are far from progressive. Only individuals who have completed gender reassignment surgery are eligible to change their gender marker. This policy excludes the majority of transgender individuals who are transitioning in accordance with their gender identity but have not or cannot have gender reassignment surgery.
Mr. Scott’s promise to prevent transgender individuals from obtaining a gender marker change under any circumstance is not only insensitive, but it’s irresponsible. Mr. Scott’s targeting of an already disenfranchised group shows that he is a candidate in search of creating problems rather than solutions.
The ACLU has worked for years to educate lawmakers and the Department of State on the specific issues affecting the transgender community. We extend to Rep. Scott an invitation to continue this dialogue to ensure that transgender people are not simply causalities of partisan politics.