Lawsuit: Michigan Discriminates Against Transgender People in Issuing State IDs

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Lawsuit: Michigan Discriminates Against Transgender People in Issuing State IDs

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A federal lawsuit challenges a policy by the Michigan Secretary of State's office that requires an amended birth certificate before correcting the gender on state issued identification cards.

A federal lawsuit filed last week challenges a policy by the Michigan Secretary of State’s office that attorneys claim makes it impossible for many transgender people to correct the gender on their state-issued identification cards.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on behalf of six plaintiffs, claims that the policy amounts to a refusal by the state to recognize and respect the plaintiffs’ gender identities. Under that policy, implemented by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson in 2011, the state of Michigan will not change the gender marker on an identity document unless the person produces an amended birth certificate showing the correct gender.

Johnson, a former GOP Michigan house member, ran for lieutenant governor in 2006.

Obtaining an amended birth certificate can be difficult and expensive, according to attorneys for the ACLU. Michigan law requires that a person undergo gender confirmation surgery to receive an amended birth certificate. ACLU attorneys allege that Johnson’s 2011 rule is unconstitutional because it violates the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to privacy, free speech, equal protection, interstate travel, and independence in making important medical decisions.

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“A driver’s license serves a crucial function for many individuals in making it possible for them to secure and maintain a job and otherwise care for their needs and the needs of their family,” the lawsuit reads. “A driver’s license that fails to match one’s gender leads to the disclosure of private, intimate information about one’s transgender status, and it often leads to physical harm, harassment, discrimination, or groundless accusations of fraud.”

In contrast to Michigan’s restrictive and onerous policy, the federal government and a number of other states have modernized their policies for correcting the gender on identity documents such as driver’s licenses and passports, according to court documents. Those entities have eliminated surgical and other burdensome requirements in favor of policies that allow a gender correction based on a sworn statement or letter from a medical provider confirming the transgender person’s change of gender.

Surgical gender reassignment prior to revising government-issued identification used to be a more widespread policy, according to the complaint. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health in 2010 urged governments to drop the surgery requirements. The U.S. State Department changed its policy that year, asking instead for passport applicants to present a doctor letter detailing “appropriate clinical treatment” for a gender transition.

The Social Security Administration dropped the surgical requirement for Social Security ID cards in 2013.

The Michigan lawsuit seeks a declaration from the court that the state’s policy is unconstitutional and an order blocking state officials from enforcing it. Attorneys for the state of Michigan have not yet filed a response to the allegations in the compliant.