DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Michigan announced on Thursday that they have filed a federal lawsuit against the Michigan Secretary of State challenging a department policy that makes it impossible for many transgender individuals to correct the gender on their driver’s licenses and other forms of identification.
“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, filed in federal court in Detroit on behalf of six plaintiffs, seeks a court order declaring the policy unconstitutional and argues that 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.
Under current policy, which Secretary of State Ruth Johnson implemented in 2011, the state refuses to change the gender 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 require a court order before changing the gender on a birth certificate. And three states, including nearby Ohio, where two of the plaintiffs were born, disallow gender changes on birth certificates altogether.
Moreover, 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. And more than 25 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, also from the ACLU of Michigan; and Steven Gilford, Michael Derksen and Jacki Anderson from the Chicago office of Proskauer Rose LLP.