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By BTL Staff
DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit in Detroit against the Michigan Secretary of State May 21 challenging a department policy that makes it impossible for many transgender individuals to correct the gender marker on their driver’s licenses and other forms of identification. The lawsuit seeks a court order declaring the Secretary of State’s policy unconstitutional.
“By refusing to provide transgender people with identity documents that match their correct gender identity, the state makes it unimaginably difficult for them to navigate their everyday lives,” explained Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project. “Worse, the policy exposes an already vulnerable group to the risks of repeatedly having to reveal intimate personal medical information that, when divulged in some situations, can lead to discrimination, harassment, violence and even death.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six plaintiffs and contends the policy represents a refusal by the state to recognize and respect gender identity. Three of the named plaintiffs are Emani Love and Tina Seitz, two transgender women, and Codie Stone, a transgender man.
“At one point in time, Michigan recognized my correct gender on my state driver’s license. However, when my license was re-issued, I was incorrectly assigned a male gender marker. That was due to the Secretary of State’s revised policy. So now if I need to show my driver’s license for any reason, whether to cash a check or go through security lines at the airport, I experience extremely high levels of anxiety. It is embarrassing and demeaning, and I live in constant fear of having to divulge what should be private information,” Seitz said at the press conference.
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson implemented the current policy in 2011. The state refuses to allow a change of the gender marker on a driver’s license or state ID unless the person produces an amended birth certificate showing the correct gender.
However, obtaining an amended birth certificate can be difficult if not impossible. For people who were born in Michigan, state law requires that a person undergo gender confirmation surgery to receive an amended birth certificate. Not every transgender person needs or wants surgery, and many people do not have insurance coverage or the money to pay for it. Most transgender people do not undergo such a procedure.
Other states currently require a court order before changing the gender designation on a birth certificate. And three states, including nearby Ohio where two of the plaintiffs were born, prohibit gender changes on birth certificates altogether.
“I am a pretty open guy about my gender identity, but it should be my decision whether to tell someone that I was assigned a female at birth. Right now I don’t have that choice when I want to buy alcohol, use checks or a credit card in certain stores, or when interacting with state officials who may not need to know that information. That puts me in potentially dangerous positions, and the emotional weight of having to worry about how someone will react to my female identification can be a heavy burden,” Stone said.
The lawsuit points out that the Michigan policy is as arbitrary as it is harmful. Federal policy, for instance, doesn’t require surgery to change the gender marker on a U.S. Passport or Social Security records. More than 30 states currently permit gender marker changes on state-issued IDs without requiring gender confirmation surgery.
The National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released a study in 2011 titled “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey” which found that 59 percent of transgender individuals were able to update the gender marker on their driver’s license with only 41 percent living without ID matching their gender identity.
Seitz is a retiree from GM. During her employment, she and the LGBT employee group worked with GM to add gender identity and expression to its anti-discrimination policy. She also served on the board of Affirmations and is currently very active within her church.
Stone is as Ph.D student at Western Michigan University, studying harassment and micro-aggressions towards the transgender community.
The plaintiffs are represented by Kaplan, John Knight from the ACLU’s LGBT Project, Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg from the ACLU of Michigan, and Steven Gilford, Michael Derksen and Jacki Anderson from the Chicago office of Proskauer Rose.