03 September 2012

Voter ID: A Transgender Issue

You know it's election season when the issue of voter IDs comes up.

As you've probably heard by now, a federal court has struck down a Texas law that would have required voters to present government-issued photo IDs before casting their ballots.

In its ruling, the court cited the "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor" that would be imposed by the law.  The fees for obtaining such documents can be a deterrent to the poor.  Also, for some, the logistics--such as transportation and, in the case of those with disabilities (who make up a disproportionate number of the poor), facilities--can keep people from getting passports, drivers' licenses or other such photo IDs.

Critics of the law saw it--rightly, I believe--as a very thinly-disguised attempt to suppress the turnout of "minority", particularly African-American, voters.  Another minority in particular would have been greatly affected by such a law.

I am talking, of course, about transgenders.  We all know how difficult it can be for us to obtain documents that allow us to go about our lives.  In most places, a person is identified by which he or she was identified at birth until he or she undergoes gender reassignment surgery.  (In some places, even that is not enough to gain legal recognition of one's true gender.)  As you can imagine, this is quite a problem for those who are living in their psychological and spiritual (i.e., true) genders in anticipation of their surgeries.  It's an even bigger problem for those who are living in their true genders but, for whatever reasons, can't or won't have the surgery or take hormones.

It's even more of a problem, I think, for someone who's changed his or her name, is living as his or her true gender but still has identification that identifies him or her by the sex assigned at birth.  Many trans people are in such a position because, while they are living for all intents and purposes in their true gender, it is not recognized as such because they have not had surgery.

I am not describing a hypothetical situation:  It was mine during the 2008 Presidential election.  And it is the current situation of a few people I know.  Fortunately for me, I wasn't required to show ID; I merely had to sign the roll book.  But others are not in such fortunate circumstances.

Now, I'll admit there are not nearly as many trans people as there are, say, African-Americans, Latino(a)s or even lesbians or gay men.  So some political strategists and everyday citizens may not believe that this is a "big" problem. Anyone who thinks that way should ponder these questions:  What if my right to vote were taken away?  Or, what if I still had that right but other conditions made it all but impossible to exercise?

Last time I looked, even minorities of one were entitled to the same rights and protections as everyone else.  Anyone who believes in fairness would want it for every one, every individual.

Then again, as small a minority as we may be, perhaps the folks who come up with voter ID laws want to suppress our votes as much as they may want to keep African-Americans away from the polling booths.  After all, we're probably just as likely as they are to vote for the President, even with the ways some of us have been disappointed with him.  I'm no political scientist and therefore have no numbers to back up what I've said, but I don't recall seeing any "Trans Folk for Romney" ads.