Lambda Legal Demands Accurate Driver’s License for Mississippi Transgender Woman

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July 19, 2016
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Last Friday, Lambda Legal and co-counsel Dianne Ellis sent a letter to the head of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety (DPS) on behalf of Lauren Miller, a Mississippi transgender woman who was denied a corrected driver’s license that accurately reflects her legal name and gender.

Lauren is a divorced parent of four children who she raises with her former spouse. She is a British citizen living in Mississippi with permanent resident status.  She legally changed her name in the U.K. in December 2013, and, with a letter from her doctor, changed her UK passport to reflect her legal name and gender. Lauren then set about changing all of her U.S. identity documents, including her state driver’s license.

With the long lines and the various required pieces of identification, getting a driver’s license is stressful for most of us. Lauren did what was expected. She waited in the lines; she presented all the required and properly authenticated documents. But unlike those of other drivers, Lauren’s request to get a corrected driver’s license was rejected because she is transgender. 

There is no legal reason to deny Lauren a license with accurate information.

Even though Lauren had legal documents, including a valid passport, she decided to seek additional legal documentation of her name change. In March 2015, a Mississippi court issued an order recognizing her changed name, and she updated her Social Security card with her new name and corrected gender.

Before her license expired, she went to the DPS yet again to get a new driver’s license. She took her U.S. court order, her U.K. name change document, her Social Security card, a letter from her doctor, her U.K. passport, and her green card.

At different DPS offices she was rejected for two different reasons—neither of which is supported in state law. Because she was getting conflicting information, she called DPS to get clarification on the requirements for a corrected license and was told her that only an amended birth certificate would be acceptable for a gender marker change, even though foreign birth certificates are not acceptable forms of ID under federal law.  

In May 2016, desperate to make sure she was driving with a valid license, Lauren went back to DPS once more to try to renew her license with just the correct name. Again, she was refused. Lauren remained calm and respectful – even though the clerk repeatedly misgendered her by using only male pronouns – in stating her right to a driver’s license with her legal name.

The next day, Lauren was contacted by a DPS officer and threatened with arrest if she dared go to any DPS office to seek a driver’s license.

Lauren cannot get the renewed license she needs to get to work or to take care of her family.

There is no legal reason to deny Lauren a license with accurate information. In denying her an accurate license, DPS is violating Lauren’s constitutional rights by discriminating against her on the basis of sex  and gender identity, and by trampling her rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

Read the letter.

Transgender people should not have to choose between driving and dignity.  No one should be required to carry conflicting identity documents, or a have a driver’s license that does not match their appearance and gender identity.

Forcing a transgender person to rely on an expired driver’s license that does not accurately reflect their gender identity is not only discriminatory, it’s also dangerous. And threatening someone with arrest for exercising their rights is the epitome of government abuse.

We hope our letter leads to a quick resolution and a recognition that constitutional rights apply to every person in every state, including Mississippians, transgender people and immigrants.

More information on identity documents.