Identity Documents
Anand Kalra

“Before I had any documentation that matched my public presentation and my gender identity, it was uncomfortable and could be scary—and it was a disincentive to apply for certain types of jobs. But then in California I was able to get a driver’s license with a new name and gender.

“There was definitely a psychological affirmation that yes, this is who I am, this is what I look like, and I feel comfortable passing this around with friends. Whenever anyone says, ‘Let me see your driver’s license picture,’ I feel good doing that. 

“I live in Michigan now, and so far I’ve been very lucky because the places I have gotten work have already had gender identity as a protected class in the nondiscrimination policies.

“But I can’t go in and get my Michigan driver’s license by taking my California license and my passport or my social security card to the secretary of state’s office. The laws here are different, so I would have to go and get my name officially changed and get my gender marker changed on my social security account. There’s the financial barrier there, and then just the bureaucracy of it is enough to make me want to throw my hands up in the air.”

Identity Documents

Carrying identification that reflects your genuine, real-world self is basic—whether you’re transgender or not. That’s what ID’s are for. So imagine if every time you tried to travel, open a bank account or start a new job, someone harassed you about your ID. Is it fake? Are you pretending to be someone you’re not?

To read our FAQ about IDs, click here.

When a transgender person’s ID is called into question, whether on suspicion of lying or out of an inappropriate interest in finding out whether they’ve had sex reassignment surgery (SRS), it amounts to harassment and discrimination and, in many cases, reveals their transgender status, which is private information. Forty percent of National Transgender Discrimination Survey participants who presented ID that didn’t match their gender presentation were harassed, 15% were asked to leave an establishment, and 3% were assaulted.

Many agencies responsible for changing documents such as birth certificates or drivers licenses still require proof of sexual reassignment surgery (SRS). But there is no set formula for transitioning. The Standards of Care established by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) state that for some, transition involves simply living in accordance with your gender identity, while for others there may be medical interventions required such as hormone therapy or SRS. All this needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

These facts are beginning to influence ID policy. WPATH urged in 2010 that governments and other bodies should “move to eliminate requirements for identity recognition that require surgical procedures.” Indeed, four U.S. federal agencies recently enacted policies that are more in sync with the realities of transition. And several states are modernizing their birth certificate and driver’s license policies.

In addition, in March 2012, a federal court in Alaska became the first to rule that the absence of a procedure to change a person’s gender marker on a driver’s license to match one’s “lived gender expression or identity” infringes on a person’s constitutional right to privacy because it threatens the disclosure of personal medical information. The court ordered the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles to come up with a new policy that allows for gender marker change. Among other key legal efforts to get IDs to reflect lived gender is a lawsuit filed in 2011 by the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) that charges New York City’s birth certificate SRS requirement with being arbitrary and discriminatory.

Our FAQ on IDs answers questions about changing the gender marker or name on your identification as well as the work advocates are doing to help transgender people obtain accurate identity documents that will make their lives easier.


FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Lambda Legal at 212-809-8585,120 Wall Street, Suite 1900, New York, NY 10005-3919. If you feel you have experienced discrimination, call our Help Desk toll-free at 866-542-8336 or go to