FERNDALE – Today, alongside transgender allies and activists, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced that her administration has revised the policy for changing the sex-indicator on a driver’s license or identification card. This action reverts state policy back to previously existing procedures that made it easier for transgender people to obtain ID. Studies show that nearly 81 percent of the transgender population in Michigan lacks proper identification.
“One of my goals is to reduce barriers for marginalized communities to participate fully in our society. The transgender community has faced both marginalization and violence without proper identification,” Benson said. “This change returns to a policy that was in place before the issue was politicized, and that was utilized by both a Republican and Democrat secretary of state.”
Effective today, individuals who would like to correct the sex designation on their license or ID card will only need to fill out a form, go to a branch office to have their photo taken and pay the $9 correction fee for a driver’s license or $10 for a state ID. They will no longer need to provide a birth certificate, passport or court order. The form is available on the department’s website at Michigan.gov/SOS and at all branch offices.
Roz Keith is the executive director of Stand With Trans, a nonprofit that supports transgender youth. She was in attendance at the event and said that for a limited time anyone who could not afford the fee to change their ID could send her an email at email@example.com and “put $9 in the subject line” to receive help with their costs.
“The fact that we now have people in place like Secretary Benson to make these changes is huge. We’re moving toward more equality in Michigan, which is the way things need to be,” she said. “I feel really privileged to be a part of this announcement today, and Stand With Trans is one of several organizations that is going to provide some funding.”
Joining Benson at the news conference were David Garcia, executive director of Affirmations; Jey’nce Poindexter, transgender specialist/victims advocate for Equality Michigan and vice president of communication and organizing at the Trans Sistas of Color Project; Lilianna Angel Reyes, youth drop-in director at the Ruth Ellis Center and executive director of Trans Sistas of Color Project; and Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan attorney with the Nancy Katz and Margo Dichtelmiller LGBT Rights Project.
Poindexter perhaps emphasized the importance of this change best when she gave a real-life example of a transgender woman who experienced discrimination because her gender marker did not match up with her presentation.
“We had a situation where a young lady was downtown. She was outside of a bar. After a bouncer confirmed her biological ID, her card was burned, and they were standing there threatening to beat her and chase her down,” Poindexter said. “So that’s the importance of an ID that aligns with your presentation. It’s a matter of life and death for us, and we thank you so much for making this right.”
She added that proper identification in the transgender community reduces the chances for misunderstandings to occur when interacting with law enforcement, health care providers and others.
Reyes’ message was similar. She referenced the fact that changing her own gender identity marker at 19 was a long and difficult process, and she drew attention to the fact that violence against transgender women is far too common.
“Trans women of color have the life expectancy, throughout the United States, of about 35. I’m 34, so my life expectancy is pushing it, and it’s scary,” she said. “… So, I’m so excited to be in this space right now, because I know that policy would help a lot of people. Most trans people, actually over 50 percent of trans people, attempt suicide in this country. And so, small policies like this, those systemic policies, help create longer lives and more successful people, and we just want to be happy.”
Kaplan pointed out that though Benson’s office did not do a radical thing by reverting to the old policy, but they did “the right thing.”
“We must fully welcome transgender community members into everyday life and policies, what secretary of state’s office has done today is not a radical thing, but it is the right thing, it’s the just thing and it’s the humane thing,” he said.
Benson also mentioned that she has started cultural competency training for all 131 Secretary of State branch offices across Michigan to better deal with LGBTQ issues in the future. To do this effectively, she is working with Affirmations and other LGBTQ organizations in Michigan.
“We found upon taking office that many of our branch office employees received no training on customer service or interaction with customers of any background, and so this is part of a holistic effort to ensure that the hard-working branch office employees are more consumer- and customer-friendly and have the training and resources to do that,” she said. “We also want to ensure across the board that the expectation is clear that when someone walks into our office they will be treated with dignity and respect. And this is also a reflection of our commitment to ensuring that that is the expectation for all employees.”