Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Maryland DMV Halts Dangerous Policy Change

Recently, the Maryland Vehicle Administration (MVA) was looking at requiring an amended birth certificate in order for transgender Marylanders to update the gender marker on their driver’s license in addition to previous requirements of providing a letter from a physician or therapist verifying their gender identity. The proposed change was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2010. Making such a change to an applicant’s driver’s license would have required going through the court system. Additionally, a birth certificate change can only be done if the applicant has undergone genital reconstruction procedures.

This proposed change creates significant barriers for individuals to obtain accurate identification reflecting the way they live. For example, there are some transgender individuals who will never want to surgically modify their bodies, some for whom such procedures are medically impossible or dangerous, and others who do wish to modify their bodies but do not have the financial resources to access such surgeries – procedures that very rarely are covered by health insurance companies for those lucky enough to have any form of public or private health insurance. Furthermore, the high cost of legal fees to access an amended birth certificate discriminates against no/low-income transgender individuals in particular who already have a difficult time accessing medical and mental health care services to “prove” who they really are.

Thankfully, due to incredible activism and community mobilization on the part of Equality Maryland and many other concerned constituents and community organizations throughout the state, the Office of the Attorney General has halted the proposed policy changes. The Attorney General’s Office issued the following statement from the MVA:

MVA believes that the current policy on gender designation which has been in practice for almost a decade is secure and the procedures we have adopted ensures reasonable accommodation for individuals who are making a gender transition change. At this time, MVA is not effecting a change to that policy. However, written legal advice received from the Office of Attorney General clearly states that MVA’s current policy does not meet all statutory requirements and we are therefore continuing to work with the Office of Attorney General before making a final determination on whether a policy update is appropriate.

At this point, the MVA intends to stick with current procedures; however, they continue to assert that the policy may not meet all statutory requirements. PFLAG National and our community partners will continue to monitor the situation and interface with relevant stakeholders to either secure a change in the statutory requirements or assess possible policy revisions that are in the best interest of transgender Marylanders.

Having a legal identity document that does not match a person’s gender exposes them to the potential of embarrassment, harassment, discrimination and violence. We are pleased with the MVA and Attorney General’s responsiveness to our concerns and with their decision to halt the implementation of this dangerous policy change in order to foster a working group that can achieve compliance with the law, but more importantly, to help transgender Marylanders obtain accurate identity documents without financial hardship and onerous bureaucracy.

Of course, should something change with this policy, we will be sure to update our Maryland chapter leaders and members alike through our action alert system. If you aren’t currently receiving these updates, please let us know, and we’ll make sure you receive this important information. In the meantime, if you have additional questions regarding this issue, please be sure to contact our Policy Manager, Rhodes Perry at rperry@pflag.org.

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