SAN FRANCISCO — Lauren Grey didn’t think much about the gender recorded on her Illinois driver’s license until she went to test-drive a car. Though she’d been living as a woman for months and easily obtained a license with her new name and a picture reflecting her feminine appearance, Grey’s ID still identified her as male, prompting uncomfortable questions.
Similarly awkward conversations ensued when the 38-year-old Chicago graphic designer tried to rent an apartment, went to bars or was taken out of airport lines for inspection.
Those “M” or “F” markers printed on government-issued documents — and the legal and administrative prerequisites for switching them — are a source of anxiety and even discrimination for transgender individuals.
Rules vary from state to state, agency to agency and even clerk to clerk. But a transgender applicant generally has been required to submit a court order approving the gender change and a letter from a surgeon certifying he or she underwent irreversible sex reassignment surgery before obtaining a new document.
Over the past few years, though, the emerging movement for transgender rights has quietly pressed the issue, persuading state lawmakers and federal and state agencies to simplify the process.
Advocates recorded their latest victory Friday, when the Social Security Administration announced it would no longer require proof of surgery to alter gender identification in its computers and records.
The move mirrors similar actions by the U.S. State Department, which amended its passport application policies three years ago to do away with the sex reassignment surgery requirement, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which last year did the same for green cards, work permits and other documents .
As a result of lawsuits and lobbying, about half of U.S. states now allow residents to revise the gender designations on their driver’s licenses without first undergoing surgery or getting a judge’s approval. Applicants instead must provide a letter from a health professional stating they have received counseling, hormone therapy or another form of gender-transition treatment.