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DETROIT – On Thursday the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit in Detroit against the Michigan Secretary of State 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.
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 I.D. 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.
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. Currently more than 30 states permit gender marker changes on state-issued ID without requiring gender confirmation surgery.
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.