Change may only come about from a grassroots uprising, but it’s always good to have some help straight from the top.
That’s the strategy the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is pursuing on behalf of transgender, intersex and non-binary people seeking accurate identity documents. In March, the ACLU asked President Joe Biden to issue an executive order updating how federal agencies change ID gender markers. The ACLU’s “They the People” Campaign asks for an X gender option, and for an end to requiring medical documentation, instead allowing people to self-attest to their gender.
The Biden administration already came through in large part with the June 30 State Department announcement that it will add a third gender option and “remove burdensome medical documentation requirements for transgender Americans who wish to update their gender markers on their passports and other citizenship or identity documents.”
The ACLU continues to urge this change for all federal-issued IDs including social security cards and federal employee IDs.
“Documents open or shut all the doors,” says Arli Christian, campaign strategist for ACLU’s National Political Advocacy Department. “We want this directive to come right from the president. We want the community to know the federal government recognizes all trans people as exactly who we are.”
Christian is hopeful for complete success, saying the Biden administration is “very receptive to talking about solutions for the trans community.” They add, “It will make a huge difference in the lives and lived experiences of trans people.”
That’s no exaggeration. An ID that corresponds to one’s gender makes it easier to navigate everyday life and prevents discrimination and violence. It can mean the difference between moving through the world with ease, or being repeatedly outed, questioned or worse. Statistically, young people whose pronouns are respected attempt suicide at half the rate of those whose pronouns are not, according to the Trevor Project.
Diana Lombardi, executive director of the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition, says “It really means a lot. Even though we have laws in Connecticut, it doesn’t cover everything.” Her own passport (obtained under past rules requiring medical documentation) is both “very affirming” and a safety factor when traveling outside of New England, she says.
The ACLU has filed six suits against states for refusing to allow accurate driver’s licenses, birth certificates and other documents.
As of July, the ACLU reports that 20 states and the District of Columbia offer an X gender designation and/or self-attestation. “That’s really progress that’s happened in the last five years,” says Christian. DC and Oregon were first, in 2017.
In Connecticut, a non-binary gender designation is available on birth certificates and drivers’ licenses. A medical professional’s assertation of treatment (although not surgery, as required by some states) is still required to change the gender marker on a birth certificate. A legislative attempt to remove medical requirements made it out of committee two sessions ago, but not to the floor.