The Shifting Landscape of IDs for Trans People

State Policy Director Arli Christian discusses the patchwork of laws governing how people change the name and gender on their identity documents.

PHOTO: A paper form presents three gender marker options including M, F, and X

In the last year, the National Center for Transgender Equality has seen groundbreaking progress modernizing gender marker policies on state-issued documents such as driver’s licenses and birth certificates.

The ability to easily and affordably change the name or gender on IDs is a crucial right for transgender people. But many states still enforce arbitrary requirements in order for these documents to be changed, making it harder for transgender people to avoid harassment and discrimination in employment, health care, and any situation requiring them to show their ID or birth certificate.

Here to break down some recent changes — and why they’re so important for transgender people — is Arli Christian, State Policy Director at NCTE.


Q: What are some of the trends we are seeing in gender change policies?

A: Over the last year we are seeing two exciting trends in gender change policies across the country. First, states are removing the requirement to have a health care professional affirm a gender change request. This reflects the simple concept that transgender people themselves are best suited to report their own gender, and removes the burdensome and expensive barrier of having to find a health care professional to confirm one’s own identity.

CHART: Percentage of transgender people who have faced verbal harassment after presenting a document that did not reflect their gender identity or presentation (Credit: 2015 US Transgender Survey)

Second, states are adding a gender-neutral option of “X” in addition to “M” or “F.” Providing a gender-neutral option for IDs means that non-binary people — people who do not identify as male or female — have a more accurate marker on their ID. The gender-neutral option also allows anyone to have additional privacy around their gender, and is an exciting step towards recognizing we do not need states to police or track gender.

Q: What happened with the driver’s license policy last month in Nevada?

A: Nevada just passed a new regulation removing the requirement that providers must sign off on a gender marker change. The policy took effect in May, so residents of Nevada can now request an updated gender marker by simply filling out a form. They won’t need a medical provider to sign off. This change made Nevada the fourth state to remove the provider sign-off requirement for driver’s licenses, after Massachusetts, Oregon, and the District of Columbia.

Q: How hard is it for a transgender person to get health care professional to sign off?

A: It can be expensive and burdensome to find a trans-competent provider and get their signed approval for gender change forms or letters. Often, you can’t get provider signatures on your first visit. You have to see that provider multiple times, and pay multiple copays. Transgender people — and transgender people in rural areas in particular — are already more likely to be uninsured than their counterparts, so these appointments present a real barrier to getting an updated ID. Plus, transgender people who live in rural areas might have fewer options of providers willing to sign such a document. Finally, medical signature requirements tend to exclude people who don’t pursue medical transition from changing their gender marker altogether.

Besides, transgender people themselves are best suited to report their own gender identity. After all, who is it that usually tells a therapist or a doctor their gender identity? It’s the patient themselves. So this change in Nevada, and other states, is removing a big barrier, cutting out the middleman, and recognizing that when it comes down to it, every person is the expert on their own gender identity and our policies should respect that.

Q: How about allowing for gender-neutral markers on driver’s licenses?

A: Just last week, Maine became the third jurisdiction to start issuing gender-neutral state IDs and licenses. Oregon and the District of Columbia already offer gender-neutral options on driver’s licenses, and California will begin issuing them in January of 2019.

Other states are working toward this goal as well. We’ve spoken with the Nevada DMV and they working on adding a gender-neutral marker to their database options. One thing that’s notable about these driver’s license gender change policies is they typically do not require legislation or new laws. These are usually decisions made within the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and can be changed without involving elected officials.

Q: I know that’s not the only ID news we’re following — what’s happening in New Jersey?

A: Last month in New Jersey, the state legislature passed a bill that allows people born in New Jersey to change the gender marker on their birth certificate more easily. Currently, changing the gender marker on a birth certificate requires a signed letter from a physician confirming the person has received surgery.This bill removes the surgical requirement and allows anyone to simply submit a form attesting to their gender identity and requesting the certificate be changed.

PHOTO: As State Policy Director, Arli works with state advocates to modernize name change laws, state ID regulations, and birth certificate policies, and is dedicated to improving and expanding access to legal services for trans communities through NCTE’s Trans Legal Services Network.

The bill also allows adds a gender neutral option, allowing people to choose M, F, or X on their birth certificate. New Jersey is the seventh state to remove the provider requirements for birth certificates (joining California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) and the fourth state to allow for non-binary gender markers on birth certificates (joining California, Oregon, and Washington).

The bill passed through the state legislature and is currently in front of the governor, who is expected to sign it into law any day now.

Q: Where can people learn about the rules and laws in their state?

A: We maintain an online ID Documents Center showing state-by-state gender change requirements for driver’s licenses and birth certificates, as well as guidelines for obtaining legal name changes. Head over to the to check out the requirements in your state!

Trans Equality Now!

A joint project of the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund and the National Center for Transgender Equality. Also at ncteactionfund.org and transequality.org.

National Center for Transgender Equality

Written by

We’re the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people. Also at https://transequality.org.

Trans Equality Now!

A joint project of the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund and the National Center for Transgender Equality. Also at ncteactionfund.org and transequality.org.

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