The stunning election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States has elicited very real panic among many LGBTQ Americans — myself included. Considering Vice President-elect Mike Pence's long history of anti-LGBTQ policymaking, many of us are scrambling to take advantage of existing protections before Trump and Pence take office in January and possibly repeal all that progress. Now, I'm not a lawyer, but I am a queer cisgender woman who strives to be a trans ally, and who has been reporting on the shifting legal landscape for trans rights for the better part of a decade. So here's where to start if you're a trans person who wants to get your documents in order before Inauguration Day.
First off, it's important to acknowledge that while many white gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people (like myself) are understandably frightened of the future, trans and gender-nonconforming people, and especially trans women of color, are quite literally fearing for their lives. Responding to that fear, a black nonbinary femme named Riley (who uses they/them pronouns) launched the hashtag #TransLawHelp to identify and connect practicing attorneys willing to help trans folks navigate the process of updating their gender marker on legal identification.
And while having legal ID that reflects your identity won't be a cure-all for the onslaught of state-sanctioned transphobia we're likely to face, it can be an important first step to protecting your own existence.
If you are a U.S. citizen, the simplest, best way to make sure you have legal identification that reflects your gender identity is to update your passport. Time is of the essence here — start filling out forms now. The National Center for Transgender Equality has an excellent one-stop-shop that explains what's required for name and gender changes in each state.
To be clear: You do not need to have changed your name or any other government records to obtain a passport that accurately reflects your gender identity. However, if you have legally changed your name, you can update your name and gender on your passport at the same time.
Here's the list of documents NCTE says you'll need to fill out and submit to obtain a new or updated passport:
- Application for U.S. Passport (Form DS-11);
- Proof of U.S. citizenship (such as a previous U.S. Passport, Certified Birth Certificate, Certificate of Naturalization, or Report of Birth Abroad);
- Proof of Identity that contains your signature and photograph that is “a good likeness to you” (such as a previous U.S. Passport, a Driver’s License, a Certificate of Naturalization, Military Identification, or a Government Employee Identification Card). You must present the original AND provide a photocopy of the front and back side with your application;
- A recent color photograph 2 inches-by-2 inches in size;
- If you are changing your name on your passport, an Order for Name Change (certified copy showing a seal and officiate/judge signature);
- A letter from your physician confirming your gender transition; and
- Fee (see the Department of State fee schedule for costs).
Thanks (in part) to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, since 2010 transgender Americans have been able to update their passports without providing proof of any particular gender-affirming surgery.
If you have previously been issued a passport, or have other government-issued documents that list your name and gender as assigned at birth, bring those with you when you apply for your passport. If those documents don't reflect your current gender or name, you'll also need to obtain a physician's letter that states that you have undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition. The letter does not need to explain the specifics of your particular treatment, and you do not need to be on hormones or any other medical regimen to obtain an updated passport.
This physician's letter can come from your regular primary care doctor, or from any other licensed physician who has seen you and can affirm that you are, in fact, the gender you know yourself to be, regardless of where you are in your transition. You can find templates for a gender change physician's letter here and here. Bring this template to your doctor.
Although fees vary by state, you should expect to spend at least $135 updating your passport. That includes the regular $110 new passport fee, in addition to a $25 processing fee. If you need to have your photo taken at the passport agency, add another $15 on to your total cost. Walgreens, CVS, Target, Duane Reed, Costco and Wal-Mart all offer official passport photos at discounted rates.
Once you have all your documents in order, find your nearest passport processing center using the State Department's Passport Acceptance Facility Search Page. You can also call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778.
The process outlined above is currently available to both adults and minors who are U.S. citizens. Once you've obtained your updated passport, you can use that as the government-approved foundation to update other documents, including your Social Security card and, depending on where you live, your state-issued ID.
If you are unable to afford the fees that come with updating legal documents, reach out to Kendra Albert at Kendra.Serra@riseup.net, who is connecting trans people in need with donors who have financial resources to share. And if you're in a position where you're able to donate to this effort, contact Albert or donate to this YouCaring account, set up by a trans attorney based in New York City.