The ACLU is suing the state of Alaska on behalf of a transgender woman over a refusal to allow gender change recognition on her driver’s license.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in the Alaska Superior Court, challenges the DMV’s decision to cancel a trans woman’s driver’s license because she failed to provide proof that she had undergone gender change surgery. The woman, whose identity remains undisclosed but who is identified in court documents as “K.L.,” began the formal process of gender change two years ago but, while she has used female hormones, she has not had gender change surgery.
K.L., who was originally issued a license noting her female identity but then found it cancelled after the DMV said there was an “error” on the license, challenged the DMV’s decision in January through the DMV complaints procedure. She met with no luck.
The ACLU has filed the legal complaint on the grounds that it is discriminatory to use gender change surgery as the standard for a fully realized gender change when many trans people neither medically require, nor personally want, gender change surgery. Furthermore, the ACLU believes that the Constitution of Alaska, which places an emphasis on the right to privacy, clearly prohibits this kind of standard because it forces K.L. to reveal intimate details about herself that could, in fact, put her at risk of emotional, or even physical, harm.
“It is unfair and unnecessary to require that transgender people undergo prohibitively expensive and drastic surgery in order to have accurate identity documents,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska.
In its lawsuit, the ACLU points out that many states and the federal government have developed less restrictive policies, reflective of the evolution within the medical community about how gender identity disorder or transsexualism may be treated. Decisions about how best to cope with a sense of self that is in conflict with a person’s sex at birth are highly personal, and in 2011 sex reassignment surgery is not the only viable option, according to the lawsuit.
K.L. has successfully changed her passport, bank records and her medical certificate that she needs to operate as a pilot. When she went to get the new driver’s license she provided the passport and her pilot’s license as supporting documentation to list her legally changed name and list her as female. The DMV initially issued the license, but later cancelled it saying K.L. had not provided adequate proof — documentation of surgery — to have her sex changed from male to female on the license.
“The surgery requirement not only violates Alaska’s laws, it demonstrates a profound lack of understanding about what it means to be transgender,” said John Knight, staff attorney with the ACLU. “The state cannot deny transgender people an accurate driver’s license based on an arbitrary and unconstitutional policy that clashes with accepted medical standards.”
The surgery requirement for a change of identification records has met with similar legal battles in other states.
Recently three transexuals launched a class-action lawsuit against the state of Illinois claiming that its failure to change birth certificates unless applicants have undergone genital change surgery is unlawful. Read more on that here.
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