Transgender disenfranchisement is the prevention by bureaucratic, institutional and social barriers, of transgender individuals from voting or participating in other aspects of civic life. Transgender people may be disenfranchised if the sex indicated on their identification documents (which some states require voters to provide) does not match their gender presentation, and they may be unable to update necessary identity documents because some governments require individuals to undergo sex reassignment surgery first, which many cannot afford, are not medical candidates for, or do not want.[1][failed verification][2][failed verification]

Transgender individuals identifying outside the gender binary of male and female (non-binary) are even more frequently disenfranchised.[citation needed] This may be due to a lack of legal recognition for other genders, high fees, complex legal processes, and requirements for medical transition steps that many non-binary individuals cannot have or do not want especially since many such medical procedures are specifically for binary transgender individuals (such as sex reassignment surgery).

Obtaining and updating documents

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey finds that only 21% of people who identify as transgender have been able to update all of their IDs and records to reflect their gender; 33% have not updated any IDs.[3]: 5  A 2018 study found that 78,300 transgender people in just eight U.S. states might be disenfranchised because of photo ID laws.[4]

There are bureaucratic as well as social obstacles to updating identification documents. Many policies were enacted at a time when it was assumed that in order for transition from one gender to another to be complete, a person had to undergo sex reassignment surgery. However, modern health experts' current understanding is that transitions are an individualized process that can involve a variety of steps, sometimes involving surgery, but often not.[5]

As of 2019, GLAD is running the "Pop-Up ID Project," which provides free legal representation to transgender residents of the six New England states for the purpose of updating their documents.[6]

Utility bill

In accordance with the Help America Vote Act, some states allow voters to use two forms of identification that only list name and address, such as a utility bill,[7] which alleviates the issue of having to change one's gender on a document.

Birth certificate

See also: Birth certificate § United States

While birth certificates can be used as voter identification in non-photo identification states, birth certificate laws are established at the state level and commonly require that the individual undergo surgery in order for the gender on the document to be updated. Some states even make it mandatory that transgender people acquire a court order in order to change the gender on their birth certificate, which presents even more financial obstacles.[3]: 143 

The first case to deal with legal recognition of transgender identity in the United States was In re Anonymous v. Weiner[8] in 1966.[9] A post-operative male-to-female trans woman applied for a change of sex on her birth certificate through the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the New York City Health Department. The Bureau turned to the Board of Health who then called on a committee on public health of the New York Academy of Medicine to make a recommendation. The application was ultimately denied and the Board of Health stated that "an individual born one sex cannot be changed for the reasons proposed by the request which was made to us. Sex can be changed where there is an error, of course, but not when there is a later attempt to change psychological orientation of the patient and including such surgery as goes with it."[10]

As of March 2018, surgery is a prerequisite for changing one's gender marker on birth certificates issued by 25 states. Those states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia.[11] The remaining states either may change the birth certificate without proof of surgery or will not change the birth certificate at all.

Ban on Gender Affirming Care for Youth

As of August 2023, 21 states have banned gender affirming care for minors and 7 states are considering implementing such a ban.[12] Transgender voters who must wait until the age of 18 to receive gender affirming care face barriers in changing their gender on birth certificates and driver’s licenses in time for an upcoming election. The process of changing one’s name and gender on government issued IDs varies by state, but can take up to 2 months in California.[13] Election officials may invalidate these forms of IDs if they do not reflect an individual’s current gender, creating further obstacles.[14] Therefore, transgender voters who live in states that ban gender affirming care for youth, require sexual reassignment surgery or a court order to update government issued IDs, and require a government issued ID in the voting process impose a clear burden and lengthy process on their ability to vote.

Presenting identity documents

The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy estimated that by requiring voters to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls, nine states may have disenfranchised over 25,000 transgender people in the November 2012 presidential election,[15] because poll workers are unlikely to have training on how to handle transgender people, and may erroneously suspect voter fraud.

Transgender individuals may also be discouraged from voting under these circumstances because of prior experiences with presenting identification that does not accurately reflect their gender: 40% percent of transgender people reported being harassed in situations where they presented gender incongruent identification, while 15% reported being asked to leave the venue where the identification had been presented, and 3% reported being assaulted or attacked as a result of presenting their ID.[3]: 5  Additionally, 22% percent reported being denied equal treatment or being verbally harassed by government officials.[15]: 2 

Felon disenfranchisement and transgender incarceration

See also: LGBT people in prison § Transgender issues (in the USA), and Felony disenfranchisement

A 2011 survey found that 16% of transgender people have reported being incarcerated at some point in their lives, compared to 2.7% of the general American population.[3]: 163  while 38% reported harassment during police interactions.[16]

Homelessness and Poverty

People who are transgender are disproportionately affected by homelessness and poverty. A 2015 survey estimated that 30% of transgender individuals have or are currently experiencing homelessness.[17] People experiencing homelessness may face difficulties in voting, such as the ability to show proof of residency for an extended duration during the voter registration process.[18] The 2015 U.S. transgender survey also found that 1 in 3 transgender individuals live in poverty, compared to 11.6% of the total population.[17][19] Individuals living in poverty report higher rates of inadequate access to transportation, which may make it more difficult for these individuals to reach polling stations.[20] Higher rates of homelessness and poverty categorize transgender individuals into groups already experiencing greater difficulties in the voting process.

See also


  1. ^ Lombardi, Emilia L.; Wilchins, Riki Anne; Priesing, Dana; Malouf, Diana (26 March 2002). "Gender Violence: Transgender Experiences with Violence and Discrimination". Journal of Homosexuality. 42 (1): 89–101. doi:10.1300/J082v42n01_05. PMID 11991568. S2CID 34886642.
  2. ^ Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "Groundbreaking Report Reflects Persistent Discrimination Against Transgender Community" Archived 2018-06-12 at the Wayback Machine, GLAAD, USA, February 4, 2011. Retrieved on 2011-02-24.
  3. ^ a b c d Grant, Jaime; Mottet, Lisa; Tannis, Justin; Harrison, Jack; Herman, Jody; Kiesling, Mara (2011). "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey" (PDF). Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-09-08. Retrieved January 2, 2016.
  4. ^ "Trans Voters Will Be Disenfranchised in 2020 Unless We Take Action". Human Rights Watch. 2019-06-26. Retrieved 2020-06-12.
  5. ^ Thaler, Cole. "What Does it Mean to be Real".
  6. ^ "Pop-Up ID Project". GLAD. Retrieved 2019-11-06.
  7. ^ "Help America Vote Act of 2002". Archived from the original on 2012-04-13. Retrieved 2012-05-08.
  8. ^ In re Anonymous v. Weiner, 270 N.Y.S.2d 319 (N.Y. App. Div. 1966).
  9. ^ See In re Estate of Gardiner, 29 Kan. App. 2d 92, 109, 22 P.3d 1086 (2001) (remarking that Weiner was "the first case in the United States to deal with transsexualism").
  10. ^ In re Estate of Gardiner, 273 Kan. 191, 200, 42 P.3d 120 (2002) (quoting In re Anonymous v. Weiner, 270 N.Y.S.2d 319, ___ (N.Y. App. Div. 1966)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
  11. ^ "Changing Birth Certificate Sex Designations: State-by-State Guidelines". Lambda Legal. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  12. ^ "Attacks on Gender Affirming Care by State Map". Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved 2023-08-28.
  13. ^ "Adult name and gender recognition | California Courts | Self Help Guide". Retrieved 2023-08-28.
  14. ^ "Voting While Trans: How to Combat Voter ID Laws and Disenfranchisement of the Transgender Community". Retrieved 2023-08-28.
  15. ^ a b Herman, Jody L. "The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters" (PDF). Los Angeles: The Williams Institute.: 2  The report estimated that there are 88,000 eligible transgender voters in these nine strict photo ID states, of whom approximately 25,000 do not have identification or records that reflect their gender.
  16. ^ Harrison-Quintana, Jack; Lettman-Hicks, Sharon; with Grant, Jaime (2008). "Injustice at Every Turn: A look at Black respondents in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey" (PDF). National Center for Transgender Equality. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  17. ^ a b "2015 U.S. Transgender Survey Report". 2022 U.S. Trans Survey. Retrieved 2023-08-28.
  18. ^ "National Coalition for the Homeless". Retrieved 2023-08-28.
  19. ^ Lee, Juhohn (2023-03-07). "37.9 million Americans are living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census. But the problem could be far worse". CNBC. Retrieved 2023-08-28.
  20. ^ FHWA NHTS Brief: Mobility Challenges for Households in Poverty: 2009 National Household Travel Survey (Report). 2014-10-01.