In 2011 the Michigan Secretary of State’s office implemented a policy that prohibited transgender persons from correcting the gender marker on their driver’s licenses unless they can produce an amended birth certificate showing the correct gender. For persons born in Michigan, changing the birth certificate requires “sexual reassignment surgery,” which many transgender people do not undergo due to its high costs or possible medical complications. For persons born in other states where birth certificates cannot be amended, changing their Michigan driver’s license is impossible.
In 2013 the ACLU wrote to the Secretary of State’s office to explain that this policy is irrational, violates the privacy and dignity of transgender persons by “outing” them whenever they are required to show their driver’s license, and is out of step with the majority of states and federal agencies, most of which allow a change of gender marker based on an affidavit that a person is being treated or has been treated for gender dysphoria. Attempts to reach a resolution with the Secretary of State’s office proved unsuccessful, and in May 2015 the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging the policy.
In November 2015, Judge Nancy Edmunds issued an opinion denying the state’s motion to dismiss the case, ruling that the state’s policy was unconstitutional because it violated the right to privacy. In March 2016, the state changed its policy to allow an amended passport to serve as proof of gender. Although the passport policy is an improvement because it does not require surgery, it still places unjustified burdens on transgender people who have no need for a passport or cannot obtain one due to citizenship status or financial difficulties. Judge Edmunds heard argument on a second motion to dismiss in May 2016.
"I just want an ID that is truthful in its description of who I really am..."
Despite having endured years of nasty looks and verbal slights everywhere from city buses to polling locations, Emani, 22, nonetheless maintains a warm disposition shot through with the sort of genuine compassion expected of someone who devotes her time to helping youth in crisis.
As an outreach worker at the Ruth Ellis Center, a program for homeless and disenfranchised LGBT youth, Emani assists in the drop-in center and oversees a workshop and bimonthly retreat for African-American trans women.
In February, Emani had her name legally changed and was able to get the name on her state ID changed--but the clerk refused to change the gender marker after viewing Emani’s birth certificate.
Over the years, the state’s refusal to issue her correct ID has led to numerous humiliating and uncomfortable situations. For instance, when she went to vote in 2012, Emani was embarrassed by a poll worker who made a commotion about the incorrect gender marker on her ID.
“I'm very comfortable and confident in who I am, but I shouldn't have to divulge my personal information or 'come out' as a trans person every time I want to cash a check or cast a ballot," says Emani. "I just want ID that is truthful in its description of who I really am."
"I would like to live in a Michigan that respects me as a person enough to let me decide when total strangers should get information about my life and background..."
As a doctoral student in sociology, Codie has dedicated a substantial portion of his work to studying trans people in southwestern Michigan and their ordeals with discrimination and micro-aggressions.
As a trans man, he's lived some of that very same research.
Codie says that, while he doesn't experience the sort of problems that haunt many others in the trans community, he's had enough run-ins and uncomfortable situations that he recognizes clearly the urgent need for an ID policy that lets him correct the gender marker on his driver's license.
He had his name legally changed in 2011. But when he went to the Secretary of State in Michigan to change the gender on his driver’s license, he was told that he needed an amended birth certificate. Because Codie hails from Ohio, he knows that his birth certificate will not be changed.
"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," says Codie, 30. "I would like to live in a Michigan that respects me as a person enough to let me decide when total strangers should get information about my life and background, because they may not be prepared to handle that information in an mature and accepting manner."
"To mandate my gender is not in the public good and serves no purpose other than to discriminate and ostracize...”
As an automotive engineer, Tina helped General Motors put together more than just cars. After moving to Michigan from her native Ohio in 1999, Tina was also instrumental in helping her former employer assemble more inclusive corporate guidelines, working to assist the company in incorporating gender identity and expression into its non-discrimination policy.
Tina’s ordeal underscores the unfairness and flawed thinking behind the state policy. In 2007, Tina actually was able to get the gender marker on her driver’s license switched to female after presenting a letter from her surgeon. However, her license was briefly suspended in 2011 and, after she got it back, Tina saw that the gender marker had been changed to male.
Since then, her efforts to have the gender marker corrected have been repeatedly rebuffed by authorities in Michigan and Ohio.
“I find it ridiculous that the Secretary of State in Michigan refuses to acknowledge me and my gender as I present myself,” says Tina, 56. “Ruth Johnson should have no interest in mandating what she feels my gender should be. To mandate my gender is not in the public good and serves no purpose other than to discriminate and ostracize.”
ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Jay Kaplan and Dan Korobkin; National ACLU Attorney John Knight; Cooperating Attorneys Steven Gilford, Michael Derksen and Jacki Anderson of Proskauer Rose.