Every vote is important, but for transgender and gender non-conforming Virginians, they are by no means guaranteed.
Sage Cannady | September 25, 2018
According to a recent Williams Institute study, as many as 78,000 transgender citizens may be prevented from voting in 2018. In eight states including Virginia, voting law requires voters to show a government-issued IDs. And with many transgender and gender-nonconforming people no longer looking like their ID photos — due to surgeries, hormone therapy, and other changes to their appearance — they therefore risk being turned down by officials working the polls.
Bary Hausrath, a lawyer and transgender ally from the Virginia Equality Bar Association, points out that other options are available to potential trans voters. “Virginia does have strict voter I.D. laws for voting,” he said. ”But anyone can get a voter I.D. that is a photo I.D. just for the purpose of voting, that does not have the gender marker on it.” The Virginia Voter Photo ID Application, which is available online, should be turned in at the registrar’s office, where they will take a current picture of you that can be added to your card.
However, even this form may not be enough if the transgender or gender nonconforming person have not changed their legal name. Despite the complications in the state of Virginia though, Hausrath said, “Virginia has one of the easiest set of regulations on getting the gender markered on driver’s license” in comparison to other states. Bary went on to say that the financial cost is also “relatively low,” said Hausrath.
The Virginia Equality Bar works to provide “clinics around the state to help people get identification documents and change their name on various documents.” They will be performing this service at Equality Virginia’s TIES conference in late October, but if you hope to vote in 2018, TIES will be too late to get your documentation ready in time. Hausrath encourages those who are in need to start the documentation process now.
For trans people who are in need of current legal documentation, the most important aspect to focus time and energy into is getting your legal name changed. Information on starting this process can be found through the National Center for Transgender Equality’s website, which lists instructions for all state and federal documentation a transgender person might need.
The Virginia Equality Bar Association is based in Richmond, but several other aid networks for transgender and gender non-conforming citizens exist around the state. Equality Virginia’s TIES pop-ups, which happen in various cities across the state, help bring these sorts of resources to people who don’t live in close proximity to Virginia’s capital, including Norfolk, Virginia and Winchester, Virginia. In addition to help with legal documentation, these clinics also include medical and mental health consultations, job training, advocacy workshops, and introductions to supportive organizations based within the local community.
Hausrath is still concerned about the safety of transgender citizens under the current administration. “Our community needs to be on guard and vigilant,” he said. “You never know where the next attack will come from, but when it comes to voting I think most of the damage from the federal level has been done.”
Voting is just one of many ways that citizens can directly impact politics, but it is the most direct opportunity we have to choose who represents us in government. It may be more difficult for transgender and gender non-conforming Virginians to make their votes count this year, but the opportunity to make our voices heard is one we should be take advantage of, especially within the current political climate.