Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a day to remember the lives of those lost to transphobic violence. This year in the U.S, at least 22 trans people — the majority Black trans women — were violently killed by acquaintances, partners, and strangers. Today, we honor their memories with a call to action: To help ensure the safety of our trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming (TNBGNC) communities, we must continue to fight to make name changes and gender marker changes on identity documents simple, safe, and accessible for all, regardless of immigration status.
Having identity documents that reflect your correct gender and name is not just about affirmation; it is also about public safety. When trans people are forced to present identity documents that do not match their gender and chosen name, they put themselves at risk. Having to present an ID that does not match one’s appearance can, at best, cause embarrassment or confusion; at worst, it can lead to discrimination, accusations of fraud, or physical violence. A 2015 survey found that nearly one-third of respondents reported that they had negative experiences when they presented identification with a name or gender that did not match their presentation.
Ensuring that transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people have accurate and consistent identity documents can help reduce the instances of discrimination and violence they experience when trying to access housing, jobs, public benefits, and public spaces. Yet these groups are more likely to lack identifying documents in their chosen name reflecting their gender identity.
New York City’s municipal identification card, ID NYC, that can be used to gain access to city buildings, libraries, schools, and services in addition to a long list of benefits including discounts on prescription drugs and tickets to museums and performance venues — seeks to ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of gender identity or immigration status, have access to identification with their correct names and gender marker. To further that mission, last year Mayor de Blasio announced ID NYC would be adding a third gender option, allowing individuals to self-select their gender marker (“F,” “M,” or “X”) without providing any medical documentation or “proof” of gender or choose not to list a gender on their ID card at all.
However, IDNYC and most other forms of identification require a legal name change from a judge to list one’s correct name, if their “proof of identity” lists a different name.
Everyone, regardless of their immigration status, has a right to legally change their name. But reports of arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at courthouses have stoked legitimate fear in immigrant communities. In order to protect the rights of our immigrant communities, the New York State Office of Court Administration issued a directive earlier this year prohibiting ICE agents from conducting immigration arrests inside New York State courthouses unless they have a judicial warrant or order.
To further ensure that transgender immigrants feel safe accessing our courts, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Office of Court Administration worked together to create guidance for judges who issue name change orders, reminding them that it is not legally necessary to ask noncitizens to send a notification to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of their name change.
By removing unnecessary reporting, we hope to help our courts feel safer and more accessible to our transgender immigrant neighbors including those seeking a legal change to reflect their correct gender and chosen name on their identity documents. Through this, we hope to continue to honor the legacy of our courageous and resilient trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming community.
Sam Stanton is an attorney and Policy Analyst at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. They are also the first New Yorker to receive their IDNYC with a gender X marker.