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AAMVA comes out on transgender ID issues
News update posted Aug. 2, 2011
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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In a move that could impact transgender people nationally, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators ( AAMVA ) is recommending that transgender drivers be allowed to more easily change the gender markers on their driver's licenses.

AAMVA, the non-profit that makes recommendations on driving issues to every state, hosted a webinar on transgender issues and driver's licenses Aug. 3. According to Thomas Manuel, AAMVA's program director of driver fitness, they suggested that transgender drivers be given IDs with their preferred gender marker, so long as a licensed medical provider signs off on it.

"This is a customer service issue as far as we're concerned," said Manuel. "The driver's license has become the de facto form of ID… whatever your gender identity is, that should be on the license."

Overall, Manuel said, he was pleased with response to the webinar. His office logged 52 different phone lines on the call. The presentation prompted 30 minutes of questions, an unusually lengthy discussion for webinar's, said Manuel.

"I think we had a very good response," Manuel said. "There was interest, generally speaking."

The news could mean changes all over the country in the way transgender people navigate not just driver's licenses but daily life.

According to Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality ( NCTE ) , just a handful of states have policies that her organization considers to be good.

Several states require transgender people to prove they have had irreversible gender reassignment surgery. Such surgeries can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, are typically not covered by insurance,and are not always wanted by all transgender people.

As such, many government agencies have begun to ease policies to allow transgender people to more easily change their gender markers. Last year, the federal government began issuing gender marker changes on passports to transgender people who furnished a note from a licensed medical provider.

Since, other agencies have started to fall in line.

Illinois is currently in the process of re-writing its policy to more easily allow transgender people to change their birth certificates. Alaska is facing a lawsuit over denying a transgender woman a gender marker change on her driver's license.

The driver's license is fundamental, say experts.

"It's what you show when you get a new job," said Keisling. "It's what you show when you go to the bank. It's what you show when you go to a nightclub."

Keisling presented during the AAMVA webinar alongside Lisa Mottet, the transgender civil rights project director at the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce; and Harper Jean Tobin, policy counsel at NCTE.

States that participated in the webinar are not required to change their policies. Rather, presenters made a case for why they should consider doing so.

According to Manuel, updating transgender policies can save DMVs both time and money. Enforcing strict and complicated policies often takes extra resources. Still, he said, it is not certain how many states will adopt the AAMVA recommendations, which Manuel also wrote about in the organization's magazine, MOVE.

In time, Manuel said, AAMVA will likely convene experts on transgender issues to draft an official "best practice" recommendation. For now, the organization is simply making DMVs aware of the issue.

Manuel acknowledged that move was controversial to some. But he said, his organization was following American Medical Association guidelines that suggest transgender people be allowed to live in their preferred gender.

"You don't want to let your personal beliefs or feelings come into this matter," he said. "This particular part of the population needs to have identification."

Overall, the recommendations will have marginal impact in Illinois, where transgender people can already switch gender markers with a medical provider's letter.

Dave Druker, the press secretary for the Illinois secretary of state, said that Illinois "has moved well into the forefront on" the issue. Since the mid 1980s, the state has issued licenses to transgender people without requiring sexual reassignment surgery, a policy that predates many of its kind by more than two decades.

Mottet, however, said that Illinois fell short of the "best" list in the eyes of experts. That is because the state still requires a written letter from a physician, whereas jurisdictions like Washington D.C. offer a standardized form for providers to sign.

The difference, say experts, is that medical letters can cost hundreds of dollars to obtain.

Druker said that in response to the webinar, Illinois is looking into creating a standardized letter. "We do want to pursue this," he said. "We want to be in that upper echelon."

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