LGBTQ Agenda: Report highlights how lack of IDs impacts trans people

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday December 13, 2022
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The Movement Advancement Project recently released a new report about how the lack of IDs impacts trans and gender-nonconforming people. Photo: Courtesy MAP
The Movement Advancement Project recently released a new report about how the lack of IDs impacts trans and gender-nonconforming people. Photo: Courtesy MAP

In 2019, San Francisco — the second city to do so after Philadelphia — began to require all stores within its boundaries to accept cash. The driving force behind that legislation, introduced by then-District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown, was a slew of businesses that had switched to a cashless format.

Amazon Go, a convenience store chain owned by Amazon, the multinational tech behemoth, had taken it one step further. Not only was it cashless, but it also required potential customers to have access to an app that would allow one to enter the store, select the goods they wanted to buy, and then leave, with the app recording and billing for the purchases. Customers didn't even have to open their wallets.

Critics worried that cashless stores would exclude numerous groups of people from accessing their services, most notably the large numbers of poor and people of color.

"The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation estimated in 2017 that 6.5% of American households don't have a bank account," reported the San Francisco Chronicle. "Rates are higher among African Americans and Latinos. More than half said it's because they don't have enough money."

"In Los Angeles and San Francisco, targeted exclusion of the homeless is a frequently cited complaint around the rise of cashless establishments, but the customer base being filtered out actually extends far beyond the unhoused," stated the Los Angeles Times.

For Brown, the exclusivity of cashless stores was telling enough.

"For many San Franciscans, a 'no cash' sign is tantamount to a 'not welcome sign,'" Brown told the Chronicle at the time.

The perceived dangers of a cashless society, and its exclusion of whole classes of people — the homeless, the poor, people of color, the undocumented — has an antecedent: millions of Americans don't have access to government-issued identification cards such as driver's licenses, passports, or birth certificates.

That, according to a study by the Movement Advancement Project — an LGBTQ-focused research group based in Colorado — raises countless roadblocks for a wide swath of people, and, "This in turn leads to severe, yet easily avoidable, harms for many people of all backgrounds — though these harms often impact different communities in different ways," the report states.

The study, titled "The ID Divide: How Barriers to ID Impact Different Communities and Affect Us All" was published in November.

"Our society's broad reliance on IDs means that when people cannot obtain an accurate ID, it can result in serious harm across many parts of life, from the day-to-day activities like driving or banking, to cornerstone aspects of participating in democracy and society like voting or registering for school," the report states.

Twelve percent of Americans lack driver's licenses, or even simple state-issued ID cards. While 8% of white people in the country don't have "valid, accurate" driver's licenses, according to the study's figures, 21% of Black people lack driver's licenses, while 23% of Hispanic don't have them, either. Most dramatically, 68% of transgender people don't have identification that reflects their gender identity, if they have ID at all.

According to the 2015 Transgender Survey published by National Center for Transgender Equality, "[o]nly 11% of respondents reported that all of their IDs and records listed both the name and gender they preferred, and rates were lower for certain populations, such as undocumented individuals (4%), people aged 18-24 (5%), and people with no income (6%). More than two-thirds (68%) reported that none of their IDs or records had both the name and gender they preferred." The survey gathered responses from 27,715 people.

In California, "15% of respondents reported that all of their IDs had the name and gender they preferred, while 63% reported that none of their IDs had the name and gender they preferred," the NCTE survey stated.

Lack of access to accurate ID causes a host of problems, according to the recent MAP study, including an inability to "secure basic needs, from employment to housing to health care. When submitting a job or rental application, applying for housing or shelter, receiving medical care or picking up a prescription, and much more, IDs are required for even the most basic of necessities."

One particularly dramatic example the study offered took place in Flint, Michigan, which had seen its water supply contaminated with lead.

"Failing to take appropriate safety measures to treat and test the new water supply, the city caused its aging pipes to leach lead into the water, exposing the city's more than 80,000 residents — a majority of whom are Black, and many of whom are immigrants — to severe and lasting harm," the report stated.

In response, and under federal pressure, state officials began distributing filters and bottled water to Flint residents, but only if they had a photo ID.

"This left many in Flint with little to no way to access clean water in the midst of crisis, and local advocates reported many instances of community members being turned away from water distribution sites due to lack of ID," the study reported.

For transgender people, having ID that doesn't match their gender or name means they could be refused insurance or even medical care, the study stated. The current COVID pandemic underscores that pretty clearly.

"For example, when COVID-19 vaccines first became available, many locations required people to show an ID to get the vaccine, and in some cases even for COVID testing," the report noted. "But this jeopardizes both the health of individuals without ID or accurate ID, as well as the health and safety of the broader community given the contagious nature of the virus."

On top of all that, the rising tide of anti-trans discrimination and laws aimed squarely at trans folks, complicates the dilemma even further. Twenty-seven states in the U.S., as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, issue new birth certificates and do not require sex reassignment surgery or court orders in order to change gender marker on their driver's licenses, for example. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia allow residents to mark M, F, or X on their birth certificates. California falls under both categories.

But for all the states that have made it easier for their trans citizens to access ID, there are the rest of the states whose policies are either unclear, require proof of sex reassignment surgery, or don't allow people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates. One state, Oklahoma, has outright banned the use of X as an option on birth certificates.

"For example, while the federal government offers guidance on what should appear on birth certificate forms, there is no actual standard form and states are free to develop their own form and statistical record-keeping processes," the report stated. "This includes allowing counties and municipalities to develop their own birth certificate forms and processes. As a result, the National Center for Health Statistics estimates there are over 14,000 different forms or versions of birth certificates around the country. This in turn suggests there could be over 14,000 different processes for getting a copy of or amending a birth certificate, depending entirely on where a person lives or where they were born."

Pau Crego, a queer transmasculine immigrant and the executive director of San Francisco's Office of Transgender Initiatives, agreed that California's policies are easier to navigate. Crego started at the office in 2017 and rose to deputy director before being named executive director by Mayor London Breed in April.

"When it comes to the process, California is pretty outstanding" in that it permits self-attestations and doesn't require medical proof when changing one's identification, Crego said. But, even in San Francisco, he noted, lack of access to accurate ID is still a challenge.

"Because of the work our office does, because we focus on trans communities and we know this is an issue, a place of intense discriminations for trans people, we knew there was something we'd have to do around it," Crego added. "Shortly after the office opened, and after I came on. ... This was something I had to deal with."

Crego, along with Jesse Kolber, Ph.D., a trans man who's a sociologist and professor at City College of San Francisco, has been working on efforts to develop chosen name policies for institutions like City College, as well as the City and County of San Francisco. Their broader effort has been to see similar policies implemented at community colleges throughout the state. It's still a challenge getting through to them, however.

The CCSF Board of Trustees did adopt a new trans-friendly gender policy in January 2020, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. A state law by former Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) allows gender and name changes in public school records. (Chiu is now the San Francisco city attorney.)

"The ones I have worked with in San Francisco, yes, have been receptive to it," Crego said of different organizations. "Many other institutions all work under the assumption that the name they were born with are the names they go by."

Crego, who is Catalan, recalled what it was like when he was a student in Spain. He didn't start his transition until he moved to California.

"In Spain it was a lot more complicated back then, so I didn't do it before I moved here about 15 years ago. For some time, I wasn't able to update my documentation because of immigration, legal complications. I wish the institutions I had been involved with when I first moved here had the processes," he said. Instead, he found himself having to come out to each of his instructors as he began each new class.

Simpler, more flexible policies would have alleviated much of the hassle Crego — and others like him — faced. The MAP study concludes by suggesting paths to make acquiring accurate ID possible for those who have been left out of the loop.

"Identity documents can serve important functions, but they should not and must not be an obstacle to accessing basic needs and services or participating in civic and daily life," the conclusion states. "This report shows there are clear, achievable paths forward for promoting public safety and good governance while still ensuring the rights of people to move freely, have their needs met, and have an equal opportunity to participate in civic and everyday life."

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact Eric Burkett at [email protected]

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