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ACLU sues Alaska DMV over transgender's driver's license

Jill Burke

The Alaska Civil Liberties Union is squaring off in court with Alaska’s Division of Motor Vehicles over what it calls an outdated internal policy at DMV regarding how and when someone can change the sex listed on their driver’s license.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Alaska Superior Court, is the result of the DMV’s cancellation earlier this year of a woman’s driver’s license because she failed to provide proof of a surgical sex change. The woman, a pilot, was born male but for the last two years has fully lived her life as a female.

“Having a driver’s license that doesn’t match my appearance and identity would place me at risk of discrimination and physical harm,” said the woman, identified in court papers by the initials “K.L.”

K.L. unsuccessfully challenged the DMV’s decision in January using the DMV’s appeal procedure.

The ACLU believes Alaska’s Constitution, with its emphasis on privacy, gives K.L. the right to live as she wishes and to not be forced to reveal sensitive personal information.

“It is unfair and unnecessary to require that transgender people undergo prohibitively expensive and drastic surgery in order to have accurate identity documents,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU points out that many states and the federal government have developed less restrictive policies, reflective of the evolution within the medical community about how gender identity disorder or transsexualism may be treated. Decisions about how best to cope with a sense of self that is in conflict with a person’s sex at birth are highly personal, and in 2011 sex reassignment surgery is not the only viable option, according to the lawsuit.

K.L. has successfully changed her passport, bank records and her medical certificate that she needs to operate as a pilot. When she went to get the new driver’s license she provided the passport and her pilot’s license as supporting documentation to list her legally changed name and list her as female. The DMV initially issued the license, but later cancelled it saying K.L. had not provided adequate proof --  documentation of surgery -- to have her sex changed from male to female on the license.

“The surgery requirement not only violates Alaska’s laws, it demonstrates a profound lack of understanding about what it means to be transgender,” said John Knight, staff attorney with the ACLU. “The state cannot deny transgender people an accurate driver’s license based on an arbitrary and unconstitutional policy that clashes with accepted medical standards.”

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com.