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Voter ID Laws May Disproportionately Affect Transgender Community


Requiring a photo ID to cast a ballot is controversial. Those who support it say it's a way to ensure the legitimacy of elections. Critics say it is a form of voter suppression. From member station WABE, Emma Hurt reports on how the practice might disproportionately affect one minority group, the transgender community.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: The issue with voting ID requirements for transgender people is actually a side effect of a larger problem - barriers to getting names and gender markers on IDs to match them. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan is with the National Center for Transgender Equality.

RAFFI FREEDMAN-GURSPAN: That has an impact - right? - when you're going to the polls and you have a identification card that might not match what you are appearing as, right? And there might be some confusion by the poll worker who's just trying to do their job, of course.

HURT: And Georgia, the most populous state with strict voter ID laws, has the most transgender people at risk of this confusion - about 20,000. That's according to a report from the Williams Institute at UCLA. Jody Herman is one of its authors.

JODY HERMAN: Trans people are in a unique position, that there is a whole administrative system governing how trans people are able to get accurate IDs.

HURT: Each state handles gender and name changes differently. In Georgia, a judge has to approve a name change. To change a gender marker on your driver's license, you need a doctor's letter saying you've had gender reassignment surgery. The problem is that there are different kinds of transgender surgeries, and some trans people don't get any surgery at all. Chanel Haley works for Georgia Equality, which advocates for the LGBT community. She says the Georgia process leaves room for subjective interpretation by judges and DMV employees.

CHANEL HALEY: That's where the roadblock will come in mostly. And so if you want to get even more deep into that, that's really more about if you're passable or not.

HURT: Haley and a coalition of Georgians are lobbying to change the driver services policy.

RIA DRANE: My name is Ria, and I'm a transgender woman.

HURT: Ria Drane is studying to be a social worker in Kennesaw, north of Atlanta. She and hundreds of others gathered for the transgender march at Atlanta Pride earlier this month.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Transphobia has got to go.

HURT: Drane managed to change her name after finding a judge she knew was trans-friendly but not her gender marker since she didn't get a surgery. She says that won't stop her from voting in November.

DRANE: Sometimes I can just show someone my ID and have my finger over the gender marker and they don't even look. I am very fortunate that some people can't tell that I'm trans at a glance. So sometimes I can just squeeze by.

HURT: Elections officials in Fulton County, where Atlanta is, say poll workers aren't supposed to check for gender. But every county trains poll workers differently. There is a workaround for gender markers - getting a passport because the federal government does not require the surgery. That's another hurdle, though, and costs time and money. Christa O'Neill is a transgender woman from Atlanta who was also at pride. A Georgia judge rejected her name change even though she's been living as a woman for years.

CHRISTA O'NEILL: It's going to be really difficult to save up any money, which sucks 'cause, like, I'd love to have a name that actually matches what I go by. And, like, I'd love to have a gender marker that matched what I am.

HURT: Because of that mismatch, she sometimes faces skepticism and hostility when she has to show ID.

O'NEILL: It hurts a lot, and you definitely do feel like Georgia just doesn't really care about its trans people.

HURT: But despite the difficulty, O'Neill still plans to vote in this election. For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEV'S "NEW LAND DISCOVERY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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