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February 1, 2008

Transgender concerns ease on Real ID rules, just a bit

Washington, D.C.--New regulations put out by the Homeland Security department over the Real ID Act are less a threat to transgender Americans than previously anticipated, at least for now.

The law was passed in 2006 an anti-terrorism measure. It requires that people who enter federal buildings, board  planes, open  bank accounts, seek federal benefits like Medicare or get state IDs like drivers’ licenses, show identification that meets certain standards.

The act also creates large databases to be shared by law enforcement agencies, state governments and federal intelligence agencies. Those databases track citizens’ movements and official contacts.

The measure also narrows the definition of who can qualify for asylum in the U.S. because it limits judges’ ability to consider evidence of persecution. The discretion that judges previously had was important in cases involving LGBT oppression.

A major concern was that a federal definition of gender for identification would create difficulties for transgender citizens.

This could have been difficult in Ohio, which doesn’t allow gender to be changed on a birth certificate, one of the main documents used to get state identification. Only two other states, Idaho and Tennessee, have similar rules.

But Homeland Security regulations released January 11 allow states to determine gender on their identification documents, like they do presently.

The reason for this, says a comment in the new regulations, is: “Two states raised issues about how gender is determined for transgender individuals and whether gender will be included as a verifiable identifier.”

The two states are not identified in the 284-page document.

The new rules also limit the electronic information stored on an ID card to a two-dimensional bar code instead of a magnetic strip that could hold name change, marriage and medical information of post-operative transsexuals.

That, however, could change as future phases of the law take effect and new regulations are written.

Homeland Security appears to have listened to Real ID opponents, which span the political spectrum. They include state governments, the ACLU, the American Conservative Union, and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in his office as Arkansas governor.

The National Center for Transgender Equality and the Transgender Law Center also submitted written comments during the rulemaking.

Mara Keisling, NCTE’s director, said her organization worked with many opposition groups to raise their awareness of the law’s consequences for transgender people, and twice gave formal testimony that helped shape the regulations.

“We seem to have dodged some of the bullets,” said NCTE privacy and documentation program manager John Otto, “until DHS wants to go beyond the two-dimensional bar code.”

“It’s a really bad, bad thing, and we want it repealed,” said Keisling of the law. “It’s not only bad for transgenders as it could have bad effects, but it also bad for what it does to all Americans and for what it means for us as Americans.”

 “The law was based on lies and the false premise that people with fake drivers licenses caused 9-11,” Keisling said. “They tried to scare people and roll back civil rights.”

Another effect of the law, Keisling noted, is that states were reluctant to do anything to improve identification procedures for transgender people until they saw what Homeland Security would do.

She said the best document to be shown to get a new driver’s license is a U.S. passport, because the information there has already been verified by Homeland Security.

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