Kalamazoo County Has a Brand-New ID Program … and Norah Getz Wants to Tell You All About It
On May 2 Kalamazoo County rolled out its new ID program after more than year of hard work and packed community meetings. Designed for people who are able to prove their identity but lack the documents to obtain a driver’s license or state ID, the Kalamazoo County ID’s stated purpose is, “To recognize all Kalamazoo County residents and enable them to connect with public safety, civic and community services.”
Uses include identification for opening a bank account and cashing checks at participating institutions, picking up prescriptions and proving identity to law enforcement. Specific populations that stand to benefit from the new ID include homeless people; transgender residents of the county; seniors and other individuals who do not have a birth certificate; people who have recently been released from prison and others who are under documented. It cannot be used to gain citizenship, for voter identification or for obtaining a driver’s license. Nor can it be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco or firearms.
To secure the new ID, applicants must produce documents totaling a certain number of points following the ID program’s point system. Qualifying documents include high school diplomas, Michigan Department of Corrections prison ID card, pay stubs and many others. The ID costs $10 and scholarships are available.
Initially, many commissioners were skeptical of the proposed ID program, but thanks to a grassroots effort and a task force of 40 people from a broad range of organizations, they were able to pass a resolution for the ID by a 6-5 vote along party lines.
Recent Kalamazoo College graduate Norah Getz was part of that effort. Getz, who is in the process of transitioning to her authentic female self, spoke to the importance of having affirming identification.
“It means me and people like me can get an ID with their name on it without having to go through … so many hours and so much money to be able to get an ID through the [state or federal] government with their name on it, in a very easy and affordable way,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling for me … I’m very grateful for the people who helped make it possible … it means a lot, it really does.”
Being able to use one’s preferred name on the front of the ID (with one’s legal name on the back), and choosing the gender to be displayed rather than being required to use one’s assigned sex at birth, or even the outright removal of gender as an identifying category is a tremendous benefit to the local transgender community. Getz gave an example of one of the ID’s practical uses
“If you get pulled over you have some ID to show if you normally wouldn’t have a driver’s license, or would rather not out yourself by showing people an ID with your dead name on it,” Getz said. “It’s very important that we have this resource so easily accessible because getting a legal federal name and gender marker change is really hard. I’m just starting with the process and there’s a whole lot of bureaucracy.”
At the time of her interview with BTL, Getz was attending a re-election fundraiser for Kalamazoo County Commissioner Tracy Hall. As co-chair of the county ID task force, Hall was instrumental in its passage. See related article: Tracy Hall: I Am Who I Am.
In addition to addressing an unmet need for certain residents of the county, the initiative has also served as a community-building effort. The county website summed up the issue well, “Without a form of identification, a person is not recognized as a member of the community and not afforded the same opportunities as other community members. Having a form of credible identification enables people to become fully participating members of the community.”
Getz pointed out the number of businesses that are on board with the new ID, giving a shout out to Los Amigos for their discount to people showing their ID at the local Mexican restaurant chain.
“In a way, you’re probably saving money by buying this thing,” she said, encouraging people who might not otherwise need to have a county ID to get one.
Getz went on to stress that this is for the “general community.”
“Even beyond just the queer community. This is really important to highlight that this is an ID for everyone to get,” she said. “The more people use it, the more normalized the ID becomes and it’s less likely for the ID to become known as ‘the trans card’ or ‘the homeless card’ or ‘the under-documented card.’”
But Getz is not satisfied with the county ID program ending with Kalamazoo County, and was surprised to learn that Washtenaw and the city of Detroit in Wayne County are the only other places in Michigan that has such an ID. The activist thought out loud about other places in Michigan where this is needed and plans to contact friends to spread the word.
“I think it’s really politically possible, and also kind of necessary to get this in places like Kent and Wayne County but we’ll see what happens,” she said. “We’ll start making some more noise.”
For more information on the Kalamazoo County ID Program go here. A list of businesses offering discounts for people carrying this form of identification is also available here.