Benson unveils transgender-friendly policy for state IDs

Lilianna Angel Reyes, youth drop-in director at the Ruth Ellis Center and executive director of Trans Sistas of Color Project | Ken Coleman

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Monday announced that her administration is revising the policy for changing gender identity on driver licenses or identification cards.

Jocelyn Benson at a press conference in Flint, Feb. 21, 2019 | Ken Coleman

The effort, she said, is designed to make it easier for transgender people to obtain identification. The Democrat said almost 81% of the transgender population in Michigan lacks proper identification.

“One of my goals is to reduce barriers for marginalized communities to participate fully in our society,” Benson said at a news conference at Affirmations in Ferndale. “The transgender community has faced both marginalization and violence without proper identification. This change returns to a policy that was in place before the issue was politicized, and that was utilized by both a Republican and Democrat secretary of state.”

Her predecessor, Ruth Johnson, now a GOP state senator, changed the policy during her 2010-18 tenure. This announcement came during Transgender Awareness Week, which runs Nov. 13 to 19.

Sen. Ruth Johnson | Andrew Roth

Beginning Monday, people wanting to correct the sex designation on their license or ID card will only need to fill out a form, go to a branch office to have their photo taken, and pay the $9 correction fee for a driver license or $10 for a state ID. They will no longer need to provide a birth certificate, passport or court order, Benson noted. The form is available on the department’s website here and at all branch offices.

Joining Benson were David Garcia, executive director of Affirmations; Jeynce Poindexter, transgender specialist/victims advocate at Equality Michigan and vice president of Trans Sistas of Color Project; Lilianna Angel Reyes, youth drop-in director at the Ruth Ellis Center and executive director of Trans Sistas of Color Project; and Jay Kaplan, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan attorney with the Nancy Katz and Margo Dichtelmiller LGBT Rights Project.

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Reyes and Poindexter shared some of the difficulties the trans community encounters when living without proper identification and the benefits attained with it.

“For us, having a state identification that reflects how we see ourselves reduces trauma and stress when having to show your ID,” Reyes said. “It validates who we are, especially in a world where people and systems constantly devalue our identity.”

Poindexter added that proper identification in the transgender community helps fight discrimination and reduces the chances for misunderstandings when interacting with law enforcement, healthcare providers and others.

Kaplan worked as a consultant for the Benson policy change. 

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“A driver license or ID matching a person’s true identity is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” said Kaplan. “It is also a necessity that we have a law in Michigan that explicitly protects people from being fired for who they are. It is way past time for the Legislature to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.”

State Sens. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) and Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) also attended the announcement.

“It’s really important policy for the transgender community, which is the most marginalized within the LGBT community. It’s an issue of dignity and safety,” Moss said. “It’s policy that really makes sense.”

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.