August 2014

AAMVA’s upcoming Transgender Best Practice Guide aims to standardize gender policies for driver’s licenses

A recent Time magazine cover story featuring transgender actress Laverne Cox declared transgender issues “America’s next civil rights frontier.” As people become more transparent about their transgender identities, laws and regulations that deal with gender need to be examined to better serve this population. For this reason, AAMVA will be releasing a Transgender Best Practice Guide to inform jurisdictions about the steps they can take to make their motor vehicle departments easier to navigate for transgender people. Key among these recommendations is allowing transgender individuals to change the gender on their driver’s license with a minimal amount of paperwork and without a requirement for surgery.

“It definitely needs to be a very easy-to-use form, and it should be a self-certification with an additional certification by a person in the medical profession—a therapist, a counselor, a social worker or someone like that,” says Karen Morton, program director of driver licensing for AAMVA. “The important thing is their license reflects the gender identity that they live under every day.”

Currently, changing the gender on a driver’s license in some states requires an amended birth certificate, a court order or even proof of sexual reassignment surgery, which can be burdensome to acquire for transgender people. Addressing this is a primary concern for the Working Group because when the gender on a driver’s license doesn’t match an individual’s appearance, doing everyday activities like cashing checks or boarding an airplane can be unnecessarily difficult.

As of January 2014, 28 states and the District of Columbia have policies that are similar to or the same as AAMVA’s recommended guidelines. While it’s a good start, there are still 22 states where it is difficult for transgender people to change their license so that it reflects their gender identity. Releasing the Transgender Best Practice Guide will help give these states an idea of what an ideal policy is.

Overall, the tide is shifting toward making gender change on official documents easier. Morton points to several federal government policies as examples of where these kind of changes have already occurred.

“Federally, you can change your gender on your passport with a self-certification, just like we’re recommending—you’re not required to have surgery or a court order or anything else,” she says. “[The] Social Security Administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Office of Personnel Management allow gender change for federal employees. Everywhere you look, they’re changing a policy, and we need to follow suit.”