Alabama wants to require transgender persons to have gender-affirming surgery before having their driver’s licenses corrected. In a legal first, the case has now being heard by a federal appeals court in the United States.
The Daily Beast writes that Darcy Corbitt, a transgender woman, recently drove for two hours after receiving a driver’s license from the state of Alabama that matched her gender identification. The joy and sense of liberation she experienced were profound, as the state had previously denied her a driver’s license with a female gender marker due to her failure to meet the state’s requirement that trans people have gender-affirming surgery before having their license corrected.
Without a legal driver’s license, Corbitt was unable to attend her great-aunt’s funeral and was forced to rely on family and friends to get around. She continued to pay insurance and monthly payments on a car she couldn’t legally drive and felt like a prisoner, lacking freedom and being punished for who she was. Despite the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama’s ruling that the state’s policy was unconstitutional and ordered the DMV to provide Corbitt with a corrected driver’s license, the state appealed the verdict.
The case, which was heard by justices at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, is the first time a federal appeals court in the United States has ruled on the ability of trans people to get licenses that correspond to their lived identities. The final decision could have an unexpected impact on another ongoing trans rights case in Alabama, where a measure that would prohibit doctors and other medical professionals from providing gender-affirming care to transgender adolescents under the age of 19 is awaiting a hearing in the Alabama House. The combination of these two laws would make it almost impossible for trans drivers under the age of 19 to obtain a license.
LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have expressed concern that the state of Alabama’s efforts to limit trans children’s healthcare and prohibit trans people from updating their IDs may have unintended consequences. The gap between how policies are worded and how they are enforced under the regulations that Alabama is seeking to protect in court is worrying. Although the DMV only requires trans drivers to have gender-affirming surgery before having their licenses corrected, the phrase is imprecise and can be interpreted inconsistently. It is unclear whether the state expects everyone to have genital surgery at a minimum, or whether some people may also require “top surgery” to meet the criteria.
In practice, trans applicants must present a letter from a doctor stating that they have “performed complete and irreversible gender reassignment surgery upon this person.” If the letter does not include that exact phrase, DMV officials will call the surgeon’s office and ask, “Well, was this a complete reassignment?” Such rules are likely to create a significant strain on trans adolescents, who will be unable to meet those requirements if Alabama prohibits gender-affirming medical care for anyone under the age of 19. Even today, most young individuals do not have gender confirmation surgery until they are 18 years old, and it may be a years-long procedure that includes being placed on many waiting lists. There are only three doctors in the entire state of Alabama who specialize in transgender healthcare.
WAITING TO BE WELL OVER 19
If Alabama has its way, transgender adolescents may have to wait until they are well over the age of 19 to obtain a license. It is unlikely that someone who has not had access to any form of gender-affirming care, including therapy or hormones, would suddenly be able to get any form of surgery, let alone genital surgery.
Transgender people are legally permitted to drive in Alabama with an incorrect license, but doing so can be extremely dangerous. A 2015 poll conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) found that 32% of trans people who showed an ID that did not match their real gender were insulted or assaulted.
Destiny Clark also struggled to obtain an altered driver’s license in Alabama as a transgender person. She brought a court decree attesting to her legal name
Despite the difficulties she faced, Clark was able to obtain a driver’s license that reflected her gender identity. However, she recognizes that not everyone is as fortunate as she was, and the current laws in Alabama make it even more difficult for trans individuals to obtain the correct identification.
“I think it’s ridiculous that you have to go through all this legal stuff just to get an ID that shows who you are,” Clark said in an interview with NBC News. “It’s your life, and it’s your identity, and it’s something that shouldn’t be that difficult to obtain.”
The fight for trans rights in Alabama is far from over, with the state government continuing to pass legislation that restricts the rights of trans individuals. The current case involving Darcy Corbitt’s driver’s license is just one example of the ongoing struggle for trans rights in the state.
The outcome of this case is significant not only for trans individuals in Alabama but also for the broader trans community in the United States. The ability to obtain identification that reflects one’s gender identity is crucial for many aspects of daily life, from accessing healthcare to traveling and employment.
As more states pass legislation that restricts the rights of trans individuals, it is crucial for advocates and allies to continue fighting for the rights and dignity of the trans community. With the ongoing support and advocacy of groups like the TLDEF, there is hope that one day trans individuals will be able to live and thrive in a society that fully accepts and affirms their identities.