Transgender disenfranchisement in the United States

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Transgender disenfranchisement is the prevention by bureaucratic, institutional and social barriers, of transgender individuals from voting or participating in other aspects of civic life. Transgender people may be disenfranchised if the sex indicated on their identification documents (which some states require voters to provide) does not match their gender presentation, and they may be unable to update IDs because some states require individuals to undergo sex reassignment surgery first, which many cannot afford, are not medical candidates for, or do not want. They may also be unable to obtain IDs if they are homeless, as a disproportionate number of transgender people are due to discrimination in housing and employment.[1][2]

Obtaining and updating documents[edit]

The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce's 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey finds that only 21% of people who identify as transgender have been able to update all of their IDs and records to reflect their gender; 33% have not updated any IDs.[3]

There are bureaucratic as well as social obstacles to updating identification documents. Many policies were enacted at a time when it was assumed that in order for transition from one gender to another to be complete, a person had to undergo sex reassignment surgery. However, modern health experts' current understanding is that transitions are an individualized process that can involve a variety of steps, sometimes involving surgery, but often not.[4]

Utility bill[edit]

In accordance with the Help America Vote Act, some states allow voters to use two forms of identification that only list name and address, such as a utility bill,[5] which alleviates the issue of having to change one’s gender on a document. However, some transgender people are homeless, often because of direct housing discrimination (eviction or refusal to rent) or because they lost their job (lacking federal protection against employment discrimination).[6]

Birth certificate[edit]

While birth certificates can be used as voter identification in non-photo identification states, birth certificate laws are established at the state level and commonly require that the individual undergo surgery in order for the gender on the document to be updated. Some states even make it mandatory that transgender people acquire a court order in order to change the gender on their birth certificate, which presents even more financial obstacles.[6]

The first case to deal with legal recognition of transgender identity in the United States was In re Anonymous v. Weiner[7] in 1966.[8] A post-operative male-to-female trans woman applied for a change of sex on her birth certificate through the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the New York City Health Department. The Bureau turned to the Board of Health who then called on a committee on public health of the New York Academy of Medicine to make a recommendation. The application was ultimately denied and the Board of Health stated that "an individual born one sex cannot be changed for the reasons proposed by the request which was made to us. Sex can be changed where there is an error, of course, but not when there is a later attempt to change psychological orientation of the patient and including such surgery as goes with it."[9]

Today over twenty-five percent of the states require that individuals undergo reassignment surgery before changing their sex marker.[10]

Presenting identity documents[edit]

The Williams Institute estimated that by requiring voters to present a government issued photo ID at the polls, nine states may have disenfranchised over 25,000 transgender people in the November 2012 election,[11] because poll workers are unlikely to have training on how to handle transgender people, and may erroneously suspect voter fraud.

Transgender individuals may also be discouraged from voting under these photo identification circumstances because of prior experiences with presenting identification that does not accurately reflect their gender: 41% percent of transgender people reported being harassed in situations where they presented gender incongruent identification, while 15% reported being asked to leave the venue where the identification had been presented, and 3% reported being assaulted or attacked as a result of presenting their ID.[6] Additionally, 22% percent reported being denied equal treatment or being verbally harassed by government officials.[12]

Felon disenfranchisement and transgender incarceration[edit]

An estimated 5.3 million Americans have been rendered ineligible to vote due to laws that prohibit people with current or previous felony convictions from voting. Such laws are established by individual states. Currently, 48 states (all but Maine and Vermont) do not allow incarcerated felons to vote. 35 states also bar individuals on probation and/or parole from voting. In 12 states, individuals who have completed their entire sentence may still be kept from voting. Individuals with a felony conviction in the four most restrictive states (Iowa, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia) permanently lose their right to vote.[13]

Transgender people lack employment discrimination protection, and face high rates of homelessness and harassment. 16% of transgender people have reported being incarcerated at some point in their lives, compared to 2.7% of the general American population.[6] Also nearly half (47%) of black transgender people have been incarcerated at some point,[14] while 38% reported harassment during police interactions.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Emilia L. Lombardi, Riki Anne Wilchins, Dana Priesing and Diana Malouf, Gender Violence: Transgender Experiences with Violence and Discrimination, in the Journal of Homosexuality, volume 42, issue 1, 2002 (DOI: 10.1300/J082v42n01_05), pages 89-101.
  2. ^ Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "Groundbreaking Report Reflects Persistent Discrimination Against Transgender Community", GLAAD, USA, February 4, 2011. Retrieved on 2011-02-24.
  3. ^ Grant, James; et al. (2011). "Injustice at Every Turn" (PDF). National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Retrieved January 2, 2016. 
  4. ^ Thaler, Cole. "What Does it Mean to be Real". 
  5. ^ "Help America Vote Act of 2002". 
  6. ^ a b c d Grant, Jaime M. "Injustice at Every Turn" (PDF). National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce. 
  7. ^ In re Anonymous v. Weiner, 270 N.Y.S.2d 319 (N.Y. App. Div. 1966).
  8. ^ See In re Estate of Gardiner, 29 Kan. App. 2d 92, 109, 22 P.3d 1086 (2001) (remarking that Weiner was "the first case in the United States to deal with transsexualism").
  9. ^ In re Estate of Gardiner, 273 Kan. 191, 200, 42 P.3d 120 (2002) (quoting In re Anonymous v. Weiner, 270 N.Y.S.2d 319, ___ (N.Y. App. Div. 1966)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
  10. ^ Green, J. "Transgender Equality: A Handbook for Activists and Policy Makers Introduction" (PDF). National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce. 
  11. ^ Herman, Jody L. "The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters" (PDF).  The report estimated that there are 88,000 eligible transgender voters in these nine strict photo ID states, of whom approximately 25,000 do not have identification or records that reflect their gender.
  12. ^ Herman, Jody L. "The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters" (PDF). The Williams Institute. 
  13. ^ Mauer, Marc. "Voting Behind Bars: An Argument for Voting by Prisoners" (PDF). The Sentencing Project. 
  14. ^ "Senate Bill Aims to Reduce Youth Incarceration". 2015-08-03. Retrieved 2016-07-16. 
  15. ^ Injustice at Every Turn, A look at black respondents in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (2008). (PDF)  Missing or empty |title= (help)

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