American companies are born as private commercial entities, but thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, suddenly they can transition to human status for the purpose of influencing an election with millions of dollars. Meanwhile, thousands of actual human citizens, who’ve only transitioned gender identity, may have less influence over elections—or no influence at all—because they’ll now face heavy burdens under strict photo voter ID laws. It’s an obscene paradox.
Over 25,000 transgender American citizens may face stiff barriers to voting in the November 2012 election, according to the report “The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters,” released last week by the Williams Institute at UCLA’s law school. This is, by any measure, the portion of the electorate that is among the most marginalized and stigmatized, and hence probably most in need of the right to have a say in who governs their lives. But discussions on both sides of voter ID laws tend to leave out transgender citizens in discussions about who would be most adversely impacted.
I’m including myself in that critique. I briefly mentioned that transgender citizens would be impacted in my first Voting Rights Watch blog, but have failed to consistently talk about their burdens in subsequent blogs. We often talk about black and Latino voters, elderly and student voters, women and those with low incomes as having trouble satisfying new photo voter ID mandates, but many transgender voters will have an incredibly tough set of challenges before them if they are to have their vote counted in November. The cost of getting the appropriate ID to vote in some jurisdictions will be as high as getting surgery.
The photo voter ID laws are already unnecessary intrusions into the lives of many people of color. Those intrusions become an epic accumulation of burdens, though, for transgender people of color. According to the report, two particular races—American Indian/Alaskan Native and African-Americans—are most likely to lack identification documents (46 percent and 37 percent, respectively) that reflect their accurate gender identity.
Jody L. Herman, author of the report, used data from the Brennan Center for Justice report on voter ID laws and the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (she also co-authored) to paint a picture of what voting access will look like for transgender citizens in the nine states with strict voting laws. She found that about 88,000 transgender Americans are eligible to vote in those states in November, but roughly a third of those face possibly getting ostracized due to lacking proper ID and the crazy complicated process of obtaining ID if the government questions your gender status.
This goes beyond just trying to get ID for voting purposes. Transgender citizens have problems obtaining and updating their identification cards for any reason, especially when dealing with the government. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey—the largest survey on transgender issues in the nation—shows that 22 percent of respondents said they had been denied equal treatment by a government agency or official, with another 22 percent saying they had been harassed or disrespected in the same setting. Respondents without ID reflecting their correct gender: 41 percent. That’s also about the same percentage who said that when they presented their non-gender-matching ID when asked to show it (at a bar, airport, etc.) were harassed afterward—3 percent said they were attacked or assaulted.