Love v. Johnson Marks ACLU of Michigan's Fight Against Discriminatory State ID Policy

POST BY Jay Kaplan Nancy Katz & Margo Dichtelmiller LGBT Legal Project Staff Attorney

Today at 2 p.m., this Wednesday Nov. 4, 2015, I'll be sitting in federal Judge Nancy Edmond's court—room 858, located at 231 W. Lafayette Blvd. in downtown Detroit—watching the ACLU of Michigan, in partnership with the ACLU National, argue one of Michigan's most important LGBT cases in history—Love v. Johnson

Love v. Johnson examines how Secretary of State Ruth Johnson's strict policy on changing driver's license and State ID gender markers represses Michigan's transgender community's ability to accurately reflect their gender identity.

For Michigan's transgender community, it is crucial to have documents that accurately reflect gender identity.  It's part of living and being comfortable in your own skin.  And yet, Michigan's current policy is one of the worst in the country.

Let me explain. Most states and the federal government recognize that a person's gender is determined by a number of things and not necessarily a person's genitalia. That's why most states, unlike Michigan, do not require sexual reassignment surgery to change the gender on a license or ID. That's also why the State Department does not require surgery to change gender on a passport, and why Social Security and the V.A. do not require surgery to change gender on their records. 

Michigan's Secretary of State requires that you must have changed the gender on your birth certificate in order to change the gender on your driver's license. If you were born in Michigan, under Michigan law, you would have to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.  And yet only a third of transgender people in Michigan undergo this surgery for several reasons: It's expensive; most insurance companies will not cover the procedure; it can be medically harmful and some people just do not wish to have the surgery, nor find such surgery necessary to their gender identity.

Other states have repressive policies, too. If you are a Michigan resident born in the states of Ohio, Tennessee, or Idaho, those states will not let you change the gender on your birth certificate under ANY circumstance, regardless of whether you have undergone surgery. And if you were born in a state like South Carolina, in order to amend your birth certificate you must obtain a court order from that State, essentially adjudicating your gender. This entails traveling to the state and filing for a hearing, which can be cost prohibitive for many transgender people (who are four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 a year).

The consequences of not being able to obtain accurate identity documents are very real for Michigan's transgender community. 

Every time a transgender person has to show their driver's license or State ID with the incorrect gender, they are outed and forced to share very personal medical information to strangers.  In a survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 40% of transgender people who presented ID that did not match their gender identity and expression reported being harassed, 15% reported being asked to leave, and 3% reported being attacked and assaulted.

Despite this harmful and nearly impossible policy, Michigan's Secretary of State has stubbornly refused to consider making changes or revisions to be in line with the rest of the country.  And so the ACLU of Michigan filed this lawsuit, one of the first of its kind, because Michigan is the only state that has this kind of requirement for gender changes. The state has asked the court  to dismiss our case and that's what we will be arguing against on Wednesday. This case is about giving Michigan's transgender community the dignity they deserve by having accurate identity documents that reflect who they are, a liberty every Michigan resident deserves. So that's why I'm going to be in Judge Edmond's courtroom today.  And I hope you'll join me in this fight for equality.

For Michigan's transgender community, it is crucial to have documents that accurately reflect gender identity. It's part of living and being comfortable in your own skin. And yet, Michigan's current policy is one of the worst in the country.