A federal court ruled today in CORBITT vs Taylor that Alabama’s policy of explicitly requiring surgery — or a court order that typically requires proof of surgery — before issuing transgender people an accurate driver’s license was unconstitutional. Three transgender individuals, Darcy Corbitt, Destiny Clark, and an unnamed third individual sued the state after being denied accurate driver’s licenses.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama filed the lawsuit and argued that by refusing to provide accurate gender markers on licenses belonging to transgender individuals, the state compromised the safety and wellbeing of these individuals and exposed them to a higher risk of harassment.
Darcy Corbitt, plaintiff, said:
“I know who I am, and finally the state of Alabama will be required to respect me and provide an accurate driver’s license. Since my out-of-state license expired, I have had to rely on friends and family to help me pick up groceries, get to church, and get to my job. I missed a family member’s funeral because I just had no way to get there. But the alternative — lying about who I am to get an Alabama license that endangered and humiliated me every time I used it — was not an option. I’m relieved that I will be able to drive again. While much work remains, this decision will make Alabama a safer place for me and other transgender people.”
For transgender people with IDs that do not match their gender, everyday experiences can become fraught with fear. Each instance of showing ID could lead to inconvenience, embarrassment, discrimination, or violence. In a 2010 report on transgender people in the South, Southerners on New Ground said that having ID with the wrong gender marker made transgender people afraid of calling the police and also made it harder for them to get jobs.
Darcy Corbitt, one of our three plaintiffs, thought she could leave that fear behind her after she changed the gender marker on her North Dakota license and U.S. passport. But when she moved back to Alabama for graduate school, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency looked up her old records and refused to issue her a license that showed her female gender. For Darcy, that means staying in Alabama long-term is not an option. If she had to give up her North Dakota license and get an Alabama one under this policy, her safety and dignity would be compromised.
One of our other plaintiffs, Destiny Clark, has had to contend with Alabama officials seeking out ever more invasive information about her medical and surgical history, at one point even calling her doctor’s office without her consent to get detailed records. And even with all that information, Alabama still refused to change the gender marker on her license. As a result, Destiny has adapted her life to minimize her chances of needing to show her ID. Choices that many non-transgender people take for granted, like heading to a club with friends or going out for a drink, are off limits for Destiny.