MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of three transgender citizens challenging Alabama’s policy requiring proof of a sex change before it will change the gender designation on a state driver’s license.
The three transgender individuals claim they were denied the ability to change their driver’s license to reflect the gender they identify with.
The ACLU says Alabama’s policy requires transgender people to undergo surgery before a driver’s license can be changed, which it claims violates the person’s privacy and due process, equal protection and free speech rights.
“As a result of the state’s driver license policy, many transgender Alabamians cannot obtain a license that they can use without disclosing highly sensitive information, risking discrimination and attack, compromising their own health and wellbeing, and endorsing a message about their gender with which they strongly disagree,” the lawsuit states. “The policy is not rationally related to any legitimate purpose, much less narrowly tailored to serve a compelling one.”
The complaint was filed in Montgomery federal court. The defendants include Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Hal Taylor, Department of Public Safety Director Charles Ward, Driver License Division Chief Deena Pregno, and Jeannie Eastman, the state’s driver license supervisor.
According to Gabriel Arkles, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project, the issue of what gender is listed on a person’s driver’s license is a matter of safety and the ability to be involved in public life.
Driver’s licenses are glanced over by bartenders, displayed while boarding a flight, studied by police officers enforcing traffic laws, and used to book a hotel room.
“If you have a gender marker on your license that is different from what most people perceive when they interact with you, then every time you show your license, you’re outed as trans,” Arkles said in a conference call Tuesday. “And unfortunately, we still live in a world where trans people are routinely harassed, discriminated against and attacked just for being who they are.”
Arkles argued that the Alabama policy requiring evidence of sex-change surgery is tantamount to the state coercing medical care.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Arkles said Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Iowa and Louisiana also have policies regarding the steps needed to change the gender designation on a driver’s license.
The ACLU filed lawsuits challenging similar driver’s license policies in Michigan and Alaska, and succeeded in changing the policies there.
“We’re bringing the lawsuit in Alabama because people in the local community have told us that this is [a] key issue that they want us [to] tackle now,” Arkles said in an email. “We’re also concerned about the combination of Alabama’s voter ID law with its policy for changing gender markers on ID.”
According to Julie Ebenstein, an attorney for the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Alabama’s voter ID laws, which require a voter to show a photo ID before they can cast their ballot, also harm transgender citizens.
Speaking by phone to reporters, Ebenstein said 80 percent of transgender survey respondents in Alabama did not have any ID documents that listed the gender with which they identify.
At the voting booth, that could prompt “groundless accusations of fraud,” Ebenstein said.
The plaintiffs in Tuesday’s lawsuit are Darcy Corbitt, Destiny Clark and one John Doe.
During the ACLU’s conference call, Corbitt recounted a moment in the Lee County Driver License Office in Opelika, Ala., where a pleasant worker’s demeanor changed when she pulled up Corbitt’s old driver’s license information and learned she was transgender.
The woman began talking loudly about Corbitt’s gender and referred to her as a him.
“She dehumanized me when she started referring to me as ‘it,’” Corbitt added.
The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages, only injunctive relief to change the policy.
“I have not spent the last seven years of my life undoing 21 years of other people defining my identity to sit back and allow the state of Alabama to dictate to me who I am and what I have to do to prove it to them,” Corbitt said.