Respect Equality

Transgender people tell Alabama court that lack of accurate IDs puts their lives at risk

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Story at a glance

  • An Alabama federal appeals court has for the first time heard from trans individuals who are arguing for state IDs with gender markers matching their gender identity.
  • An appeals court last year had ruled that an Alabama requirement for transgender people to provide proof of gender-affirming surgery before they could be issued a new license was unconstitutional, but the state has appealed that decision.
  • Inaccurate IDs can encroach on transgender people’s privacy by “outing” them to others against their will, often leading to discrimination and harassment that can put them in danger.

In a first-of-its-kind hearing, transgender individuals petitioned an Alabama federal appeals court for identification documents with gender markers matching their gender identity.

A federal appeals court last year had ruled that it was unconstitutional for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to deny three transgender women accurate IDs for failing to meet a state requirement that they provide proof of certain gender-affirming medical interventions.

The women following the court’s decision were able to obtain accurate IDs, but shortly after, the state filed a notice of appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, meaning the women may soon have to return them.

“I know who I am. Transgender people know who we are, that’s not the issue,” Destiny Clark, a health care worker in Alabama and one of the transgender women involved in the case, said Tuesday in a statement. “The issue is getting the state to recognize our existence and just let us live without intruding into our private, medical records.”


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Inaccurate IDs can infringe on transgender individuals’ privacy by “outing” them to others against their will, often leading to discrimination and harassment that can put their lives at risk.

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly a third of trans people who had presented an identity document with a name or gender marker inconsistent with their perceived gender reported being harassed, denied benefits and services or were discriminated against or assaulted.

Importantly, there is no exact blueprint for gender-affirming care, and not all transgender people want or need surgery. Only about a quarter of trans and gender-nonconforming people in the U.S. in 2015 reported undergoing procedures similar to those required in Alabama.

For those who do choose to have gender-affirming surgery, the financial burden can be extreme, particularly without health insurance, and not every trans person will be able to afford it. Other obstacles to accessibility, like state legislation blocking providers from prescribing puberty blockers or hormones to minors, may prevent trans people from receiving the care they desire.

“Transgender and non-binary people in Alabama and states across the country are being put in a double bind: it is impossible to get gender-affirming care, but surgery ‘proving’ their gender is required for them to get the identification documents they need to live their lives,” said Gabriel Arkles, senior counsel at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) who argued Tuesday’s case. “What the state is in effect doing is criminalizing being trans.”

For some, having an ID with a name or gender marker aligning with their identity could be a small step in taking back control of their life.

“After my out-of-state license expired, I had to rely on friends and family to help me pick up groceries, get to church, and get to my job. I missed a family member’s funeral because I just had no way to get there,” Darcy Corbitt, another of the case’s plaintiffs, said Tuesday. “But I was not willing to lie about who God made me just to get an Alabama license that endangered and humiliated me every time I used it. I’ve always been Darcy, a woman. I was in a costume for 20 years.”


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