The morning after Donald Trump was elected, transgender people woke up and realized that an already harrowing process — getting one’s name and gender changed on government-issued identification documents — might soon become even more difficult under the Republican’s administration.
No one knows for sure whether Trump will turn back the clock on LGBTQ rights, but his party’s platform opposes trans people’s right to use the public bathroom that correspondents to their gender identity. The GOP also supports a parental right to force LGBTQ children to go to “conversion therapy” in hopes of changing their sexual orientation or gender identity. By contrast, the Obama administration has said this practice should be banned.
“There’s been an explosion of people contacting us since the election,” says Sasha Buchert, a transgender woman and attorney at Oakland’s Transgender Law Center. “All of the LGBT organizations that I’ve talked to have had people coming to them seeking information. We’ve had so many conversations with people in the last month.”
Transgender people must appeal to numerous government agencies when trying update their documents, from state-run agencies (driver’s licenses) to federal ones (passports and social security cards). The process, detailed on websites like TSRoadmap.com, usually takes months and starts with a court order that sometimes must be scheduled half a year in advance.
The process is so cumbersome that in a 2008 survey of those who had transitioned from male to female or from female to male, only 21 percent had updated all their identity documents, according to a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The survey, which had 6,450 respondents, also found that 33 percent of those who had transitioned had updated none of their ID documents.
As hard as the process is, it’s still easier than it used to be. In May 2010, the U.S. State Department announced new guidelines for issuing passports to transgender people. The new policy said that in order to change the gender on their passport, trans people would need a letter from a doctor proving they had had “appropriate clinical treatment.” But as long as people could get that, they didn’t need proof that they had had undergone gender-confirmation surgery.
The National Center for Transgender Equality heralded the change as a victory and thanked the Obama administration and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their role in making it happen.
Eli, an Oakland-based artist and trans man who preferred to be identified by his first name only, told me that he had been able to change his driver’s license and Social Security card, but hadn’t found the time to alter his passport yet.
“It’s a draining process,” he tells SF Weekly. “The worst part about this situation is that it has forced gender-nonconforming folks to decide now if they want to change their name or gender (on documents) before it’s too late. If I don’t get my passport before Trump goes into office and he denies me the right to change it, even with my other stuff done, then I’m unable to travel out of the country for the next four years.”
The uncertainty has many people girding themselves for the worst.
“It’s like we don’t know what kind of war we’re preparing for,” says Milo Manopoulos Beitman, a transgender attorney based in Oakland, who volunteered last month at a free legal clinic for those interested in getting their IDs updated.
As a legal professional, Manopoulos Beitman has been helping others to navigate through the ID-change process, but he admits that he has not changed his own ID documents and says he isn’t sure if he will.
“I haven’t quite figured it all out,” he notes, “and I’m not operating under a sense of immediate concern or frenzy, because … I know these things work slowly. But I am thinking about changing my documents.”
Manopoulos Beitman says he probably wouldn’t even be considering changing his papers if there weren’t so many anti-LGBTQ people in Trump’s circle, including Vice President Mike Pence, who has a long history of opposing LGBTQ rights. But the number of right-wing ideologues has made him think twice.
If the new administration were to make it harder to get hormone replacement therapy, Manopoulos Beitman reasons, it might help to have ID cards that show he’s a man.
“If I was denied access to testosterone, but all my papers said I was a man,” he explains, “then I imagine I would have an easier time getting testosterone to get to normal male levels.”
While many trans people choose not to change their ID documents, that decision can leave the door open for unpleasant encounters, according to Daniel Faessler, staff attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center, an extension of the Berkeley Law School.
“If your identification doesn’t match your gender ID, it opens the door for a lot of gender discrimination and harassment,” Faessler says.
“It could be at the grocery store or if you’re being stopped by a police officer or if you’re at the hospital and they call your name — basically any situation where you have to present ID and it doesn’t match,” he adds.
Faessler and his colleagues have been working to organize additional free legal clinics in February and April, where trained students at the UC Berkeley School of Law will offer their help.
“No one seems to know what Trump will do,” Buchert says. “He’s made contradictory statements on every policy issue. But one thing is clear: The people he’s surrounding himself with have proven track records of anti-LGBT work.”