Attorneys on the Chicago Bar Association's LGBT Committee recently mulled over the many legal disparities facing transgender people.
The Transformative Justice Law Project (TJLP) of Illinois, an organization that provides free criminal legal services to transgender people, presented at the committee's downtown meeting Dec. 16.
TJLP attorneys Owen Daniel-McCarter and Elizabeth Ricks said that criminal legal system is particularly challenging for transgender people because they are not allowed to self-identify.
Ricks pointed out the variance in rules governing different identity documents from driver's licenses to passports to birth certificates.
"It's very hard to get everything matching," Ricks noted. "It increases surveillance and suspicion of trans people just because all of these documents don't match."
Those documents can determine where a person is placed in prisons and jails, Daniel-McCarter added.
The disparities transgender people face in changing identity documents has been discussed at length in Illinois over the last few years. The American Civil Liberties Union recently won a lawsuit on behalf of three transgender people seeking to change their Illinois birth certificates. Under old rules, applicants had to show proof of genital surgery. Today, the mandate is for gender-related surgery of some kind. Advocates have yet to determine how the change will be interpreted.
But for transgender people who are married, Daniel-McCarter warned, identity documents can get even more complicated.
Daniel-McCarter cites cases in which marriages involving a transgender person have been ruled illegal, regardless of the trans person's legal identity.
"I certainly advise clients, for folks who do estate planning and family law, to have all the same type of… protection that we can have for gay and lesbian couples for a trans person, even if it appears that their marriage has been legally entered into, in whatever state they came from," Daniel-McCarter said.
Finally Daniel-McCarter noted that in much of the U.S., it is still legal for transgender people to be discriminated against.
Transgender people are also unlikely to pursue legal remedies because they have trouble finding supportive attorneys and often do not know what legal protections they have.