The LGBT Health & Development Program

Research Blog–Policy Brief: Changing Name and Gender on Government IDs

Posted on July 7th, 2015 by Liz McConnell in Featured, Research Blog, Transgender. No Comments

photo of the US Capitol Building

Stephen Melkisethian, “The End of the Government Shutdown 2013,” October 16, 2013

Imagine how many times you use your ID. Whether in line at the airport, opening a bank account, or applying for a job, IDs confirm that we are who we say we are. In a way, they make us official.

So what if none of your IDs reflected who you are? This is true for 1 out of 3 transgender people in the U.S. who don’t have any IDs with their correct gender [1]. Showing ID that doesn’t match gender presentation makes trans people vulnerable to harassment, discrimination, and being denied jobs, housing, or benefits [2,3].

In states that require a photo ID to vote, 24,000 transgender people likely didn’t vote in the 2014 election because of ID issues [4]. Writer, speaker, and TV host Janet Mock said, “It’s sad that the fundamental democratic right to vote and be heard is something trans people have to add to our laundry list of civic duties taken away from us simply because we choose to live our lives most authentically” [5].

IDs can even affect trans people’s health. Twenty-eight percent of transgender people said they didn’t go to the doctor when sick or injured, but those with updated IDs were more likely to get the care they needed [6].

On the upside, policies are changing. Transgender people used to have to provide proof of sex reassignment surgery (SRS) or get a court order. The Standards of Care from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) [7] helped change that by pointing out that not all trans people use medical procedures. This led the US State Department and the Social Security Administration to change their policies for updating passports and social security cards to require a doctor’s letter confirming “appropriate clinical treatment” [8-10].

However, things are far from perfect. Updating IDs can be expensive, confusing, and time consuming. (Check out our recent blogpost for specifics!) Trans youth under 18 need parental consent, which can be a problem for those with unsupportive parents. A doctor’s letter may be difficult or uncomfortable for some people to get, and about half of states still require things like proof of surgery or a court order [3].

Activists like the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) suggest some changes to make things better. In Argentina, trans people can update their IDs without a letter from anyone [2]. (And the government pays for transition related healthcare.) Ideally, the US would have the same policy. At the very least, government agencies should accept letters from other providers, like therapists. Also, using standardized forms may reduce negative interactions with the clerks who process these requests.  Gender markers that don’t serve a clear purpose should be removed from IDs (such as social security and Medicare cards). Nationwide policies would also help, since right now the requirements and procedures are very different from state to state [2,3].

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[1] Grant, J. M., Mottet, L. A., & Tanis, J. Injustice at every turn: A report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Retrieved from:

[2] Lambda Legal. (n.d.) Identity Documents. Transgender rights toolkit: A Legal guide for trans people and their advocates. Retrieved from:

[3] National Center for Transgender Equality. (2012). ID documents and privacy. A Blueprint for Equality. Retrieved from:

[4] Herman, J. L. (2014, September). The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters in the 2014 General Election. Retrieved from:

[5] Mock, B. (2012, April 16). How gender identity may determine the right to vote in 2012. Colorlines. Retrieved from:

[6] Grant, J. M., Mottet, L. A., & Tanis, J. (2010, October). National Transgender Discrimination Survey report on health and health care. Retrieved from:

[7] The World Professional Association for Transgender Health. (2012). Standards of care for the health of transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming people. Retrieved from:,%20V7%20Full%20Book.pdf

[8] U.S. Department of State. (2010, June 9). New Policy on Gender Change in Passports Announced. Retrieved from:

[9] U.S. Department of State. (2014, December 12). 7 FAM 1300 Appendix M. U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual, 9, 1-9. Retrieved from:

[10] Social Security Administration. (2015). RM 10212.200 Changing Numident Data for Reasons other than Name Change. Retrieved from:

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