New Michigan rules allow transgender people to easily change gender on driver’s license

In a major boost to Michigan’s transgender community, it’s going to be a whole lot easier for people to change their gender identity on driver’s licenses and state-issued IDs under new rules Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced Monday. 

Effective immediately, people who would like to correct the sex designation on their driver’s license or ID card will now only need to fill out a form, go to a Secretary of State branch to have their photo taken and pay the $9 correction fee for a driver’s license, or $10 for a state ID. They will no longer need to provide a birth certificate, passport or court order, as was required under the old policy for changing the sex-indicator on a driver’s license.

“The government must work for everyone,” Benson said at a news conference at the Affirmations center in Ferndale, stressing she is committed to making Michigan an “inclusive, welcoming environment” for all.

“One of my goals is to reduce barriers for marginalized communities to participate fully in our society,” Benson said. “The transgender community has faced both marginalization and violence without proper identification.”

Making it easier for them to have proper identification, Benson said, will hopefully eliminate some of those problems, adding: “We have a lot more work to do to eliminate barriers.”


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The new policy drew cheers and tears from many in the trans community who said this will help eliminate the trauma and stress they’ve encountered when having to show their ID.  Too often, they said, transgender individuals face discrimination, violence or are misunderstood when they present their IDs in various situations, including at work, health care settings, law enforcement stops and even shopping.

For example, when a trans person is asked to show their ID, and the gender box doesn’t match who they are  —  they get outed, humiliated, harassed and too often assaulted.

 “Why this is super important to the trans community is because it affords access to public accommodations and the ability to have your official documents match your authentic self,” said Amy Hunter, a transgender woman who is a former policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union.  “Those are the keys to being able to live in our society.”

Hunter said while the new change is not the “end-all-and-be-all of what we need,”  it represents what she calls “a piece of lived equality.”

“I’ve been doing advocacy, specifically trans policy advocacy, for 10 or 12 years. We can pass all the laws we want, but if we aren’t doing implementation measures that have a direct effect in the daily lives of a marginalized community then we’re failing the community,”  Hunter said.

A 2015 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 9% of transgender people in Michigan reported that all of their identification had the name and gender they preferred. 

Having legal identification that shows the proper name and gender preference matters, activists say. Thirty-three percent of transgender Michigan residents surveyed said they have shown an ID with a name or gender that did not match their gender presentation and were verbally harassed, denied benefits or services, were asked to leave, or assaulted as a result.

Lilianna Angel Reyes, 34, a trans Latina woman and social activist, said she had her gender marker changed when she was 19. But life still wasn’t easy when she had to show her ID.

“It was scary,” said Reyes, adding “the  panic that comes with showing a gender marker” is always there.

But it’s easier when the gender ID matches who you are, Reyes said, noting suicide rates in the trans community are alarmingly high, and the new rule will hopefully change that.

“It’s helping create longer lives,” Reyes said, stressing: “We just want to be happy.”

Prior to the new rule, the cost of changing an ID was among the main barriers transgender people faced. In the national survey, 42% of Michigan transgender people said they hadn’t changed their legal name and 40% said they hadn’t updated their gender on IDs because they could not afford the costs associated with making those changes. 

Poverty is a problem in the transgender community. As many as 30% of transgender people reported they were living in poverty, 19% said they were unemployed, and 20% said they had experienced homelessness in the past year because they were transgender.

Eventually, Hunter said, Benson’s gender identification rule will allow nonbinary people to check a third box on state-issued licenses and ID cards that allow them to select an option that is neither male nor female. 

But that change can’t happen, Hunter said, until upgrades are made to existing technology to allow for the creation of a third gender option. 

Meanwhile, people like Freya Gilbert, 55, a trans woman from Benton Harbor, are eagerly looking forward to getting their identification cards changed to reflect their authentic selves. After the news conference in Ferndale, she said she planned to go to a secretary of state branch office as soon as possible and fill out the necessary paperwork.

Gilbert recalled the days of going to buy wine, and having to show an ID with a photo that didn’t look like her, and had her listed as a male.

“It’s just so embarrassing, awkward and humiliating,” said Gilbert, who recalled one incident when a store clerk showed her kindness.

“She looked at (my ID). She looked at me and she said, ‘Thank you, ma’am,’ ” Gilbert recalled. “I thanked her.”

Gilbert is now happy that the state of Michigan is showing her the same kind of respect as the store clerk did that day.

“Knowing that the state of Michigan cares, and trusts us,” Gilbert said, “it’s huge.”

Jeynce Poindexter, 36, a trans woman who transitioned when she was a teenager, echoed those sentiments. For too long, she said, the trans community has suffered violence at the hands of people who act out when they discover people are trans.

But the new ID cards with the accurate gender identity, she said, will have a “huge impact” on  the trans community.

“It is a matter of life and death for us,” Poindexter said. “And we thank you for making it right.”