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Historic Federal ID Policies Should Continue to Evolve


Last week, the Washington Post reported on what it called “Obama’s quiet transgender revolution” – the  many low-profile policy changes that have gradually helped to improve the lives of transgender people across several areas of life, including access to identity documents. The Post article detailed how between 2010 and 2013, changes at the State Department, the Social Security Administration (SSA), and other agencies made updating passports and other key documents and records to reflect one’s gender identity accessible for many more people across the country. These changes were relatively easy for the agencies to make, quite sensible from a bureaucratic point of view, and have made a huge difference for transgender people. That includes 17-year-old Elishe Wittes, who described updating his passport and Social Security record in this way: “This is the coolest thing in the last 2,000 years. And I’m just sort of dancing around: ‘Yes, I exist. I can prove I’m not a figment of my own imagination.’” 

We couldn’t say it better. NCTE worked for years to get these changes made, often together with our partners, and we are proud of these improvements. Across the federal government, we continue to press for—and increasingly to see happening—policy changes that will eventually change trans people’s lives for the better.

But we know there is more that needs to be done. The federal policies adopted a few years ago for gender marker updates now look quite restrictive when compared to policies adopted by a growing number of states for updating driver’s licenses and birth certificates. And they look very restrictive indeed when compared to the growing list of nations like Ireland, Argentina, Malta, and Denmark that allow individuals to update gender in their official records by a simple declaration. Requiring proof of treatment from a physician is particularly burdensome for low-income transgender people, but also for anyone who cannot access a competent and supportive doctor.

That’s why we’ve asked the State Department and SSA to update their landmark policies to at least allow applicants to submit a letter supporting their gender marker change from a psychologist, clinical social worker, or another health care provider instead of a doctor. Policy on gender markers is continuing to evolve at the state and the international level—it should evolve at the federal law as well. NCTE will continue to press for improvements and these and other federal policies to ensure that all people throughout the United States can obtain ID documents that reflect who they are.

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