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ACLU sues Alaska over driver’s license requirements of transgender individuals

Tuesday, July 19, 2011
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The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday filed a lawsuit against the state of Alaska after the state denied a transgender woman a driver’s license listing her as female because she failed to provide proof of a surgical sex change.

In the lawsuit, filed Monday in Alaska Superior Court, the ACLU challenges Alaska’s Division of Motor Vehicles over what it calls an outdated internal policy.

The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of a transgender woman, K.L., whose U.S. passport and work documents all identify her as a female.

After initially securing a change to the gender on her driver’s license, she was told that her new license would be revoked unless she submitted proof of having surgery.

Medical experts agree that surgery is medically necessary for some with gender identity disorder (GID), but not for everyone. Treatment for GID is individualized, and some can be effectively treated without it, making it unnecessary for the state to confirm whether or not an individual has had surgery before correcting a license. Additionally, such surgery is extremely expensive and potentially dangerous.

“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.

The state supreme court has found that the Alaska Constitution’s privacy clause protects individuals’ right to self-expression and to be free from the disclosure of sensitive personal information and government intrusions on their decisions about medical care, according to the ACLU.

“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 Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.

“Having a driver’s license that doesn’t match my appearance and identity would place me at risk of discrimination and physical harm,” said K.L., who has lived as a woman for two years.

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