This past weekend, National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) Executive Director Mara Keisling joined MSNBC’s Live with Craig Melvin to discuss New York City’s proposed municipal ID law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented New Yorkers. The proposed law also allows anyone applying for an ID to self-identify their gender—a landmark policy that allows transgender people to avoid outdated and burdensome medical requirements that have barred many transgender people access to accurate ID.
The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 41% of respondents live without ID that matches who they are, creating barriers to accessing bank accounts, educational loans, voting, or even securing a job. Often as a consequence of the inability to access ID, transgender New Yorkers face economic instability at high rates: 19% of transgender New Yorkers had a household income of $10,000 or less, compared to only 4% of the general population, which is almost five times the rate of poverty.
While the proposed law includes significant benefits for transgender people who are not undocumented, “the municipal ID law is really a response to the inhumane way that a lot of undocumented immigrants are treated by states,” Keisling told the host, TJ Holmes (who was guest hosting for Craig Melvin). But these communities also overlap: the Williams Institute estimates that there are up to 50,000 undocumented transgender adults living in the United States, for whom transphobia, anti-immigrant bias and a broken immigration system pose unique hardships as outlined in NCTE’s report, “Our Moment for Reform: Immigration and Transgender People.”
Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia have easy to understand and streamlined processes for updating gender on driver’s licenses without burdensome surgery requirements. However, none of these states provide full self-determination of gender, instead requiring verification from a therapist or doctor.