News & Politics

ACLU Sues Alabama Over Transgender Driver's Licenses

[Getty Images] Drivers licence application form approved

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued officials in the state of Alabama over access to driver’s licenses with their gender identity, even in the absence of transgender surgery. Alabama law requires proof of surgery when an individual wishes to change the sex on their driver’s license. Perhaps ironically, the ACLU is suing for the right of transgender people not to alter their bodies.

“Defendants are responsible for the establishment and enforcement of a policy that prevents transgender people in Alabama from obtaining a driver license that reflects their gender, unless they undergo surgical procedures and disclose information about those procedures to the government,” the lawsuit, filed Tuesday, alleged.

“Under the policy, proof of surgery is required for an accurate driver license regardless of whether the surgery is necessary, desired, safe, or within the financial means of the individual,” the suit continued.

“Anyone who is eligible for a license should be able to get one that they can use without sacrificing their privacy, safety, health, autonomy or dignity,” ACLU lawyer Gabriel Arkles said in a conference call with reporters, Reuters reported.

The ACLU is asking a federal judge to overturn the policy in Alabama. Nine states require citizens identifying as transgender to show proof that they have undergone transgender surgery before they can alter their sex on driver’s licenses, Arkles explained.

The organization filed the lawsuit on behalf of Darcy Corbitt, a doctoral candidate at Auburn University; Destiny Clark, a member of the board of the LGBT group Central Alabama Pride; and a third transgender person identified only as “John Doe.”

Corbitt alleged that Alabama authorities publicly humiliated her when she applied for a driver’s license in August. A clerk referred to her as “it.” The plaintiff said, “In half an hour, I was subjected to the most blatant cruelty another human being has ever inflicted on me.”

No matter your position on transgenderism, people should not be treated this way by government officials. If this really happened, the clerk needs a reprimand, if not to be fired. This does not prove anything about the state’s policy, however.

Julie Ebenstein, a lawyer with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said Alabama’s policy might also restrict transgender people’s access to the polls because the state requires photo identification, such as a driver’s license, to cast a ballot.

The ACLU has gotten similar rules overruled in Alaska and Michigan.

This case reveals the fundamental disconnect between the two views of transgenderism. The LGBT movement pushes the idea that just claiming to be born in the wrong body and identifying as a member of the opposite sex should qualify a person for acceptance as that sex by society. Some disagree, arguing that sex is biological and determined by DNA, not identity.

The difficulty comes when compromise is required, in areas such as state law. States and the federal government allow individuals to alter their names and many already allow individuals to alter their sex as well. The ease of doing this may present a problem, however.

Many men have claimed to identify as women and then gone on to spy on women in ladies restrooms. This is not to stigmatize transgender people — many of whom do suffer from Gender Dysphoria (the persistent identification with the gender opposite your biological sex), and merely wish to be recognized publicly in their identity.

The state arguably has an interest in establishing a framework — some kind of test — to ensure that people who change their sex on driver’s licenses are serious about their transgender identity. The cost of transgender surgery, the fact that it is irreversible, and the fact that it is ostensibly what a transgender person should want all contribute to the idea that transgender surgery is a good barometer for the state to know that someone is serious about their identity.

That said, the ACLU lawsuit brought up some very valid points. Transgender surgery is expensive and it can be dangerous — one of many reasons why many doctors consider it a violation of the Hippocratic Oath. Ironically, some would argue that these facts suggest transgenderism is problematic. The ACLU is correct in suggesting the procedure is not for everyone.

Furthermore, transgender surgery is a delicate and personal topic, and not something people would be comfortable broadcasting to the world.

The voting complaint may go too far, however. Even if a driver’s license says a male-to-female transgender is male, the picture would reveal a female-looking person, and the facial features would help reveal the person’s identity. This lawsuit mostly focuses on public recognition of transgenderism, more than practical concerns.

Perhaps transgender surgery is a test too far, but does the state not have the right to have some measure of proof that a person truly suffers from Gender Dysphoria before altering an official document?

The difficulty with the ACLU case is that identity can easily be expanded beyond transgenderism. People identifying as transgender have also identified as dragon ladies, extraterrestrials, and even plurality (the idea of having more than one sexual identity). In former senior software engineer James Damore’s lawsuit against Google, Damore described “an employee who sexually identifies as ‘a yellow-scaled wingless dragonkin’ and ‘an expansive ornate building.'”

This may sound like satire, but it isn’t. If states are required to acknowledge transgender identity without some proof of Gender Dysphoria or transgender surgery, how long before “dragons,” “extraterrestrials,” and “buildings” demand equal representation on driver’s licenses? If the state must publicly acknowledge a person’s identity as male (for instance) in the face of biological facts that the person is actually female, on what grounds can they deny a person’s identity as a “dragon” on the grounds that that person is not actually a dragon?

Most states will not even consider such a policy, but if identity is to be the legal grounds for official recognition, will it be “discriminatory” to accept transgenders and to deny people who are “transspecies”?

All the same, a doctor’s slip acknowledging the person has Gender Dysphoria might be a better barometer than requiring proof of transgender surgery. Medical professionals are much less likely to sanction Species Dysphoria in that way. Perhaps states like Alabama should reconsider their policies. At the same time, LGBT activists need to acknowledge that a barometer is necessary, whatever the right test would be.