The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 13, 2010

Transgender drivers win concession

Pa. licenses will reflect gender that they live

By Diane Petryk
The Daily Item

— The state Department of Transportation’s change in rules concerning gender identification on driver’s licenses sent local gym owners and operators scurrying for their locker rooms this week.

No one would talk on the record about its implications for single-sex security in the shower or while changing.

“Don’t use my name,” and “I don’t want to answer,” they said.

The change, which PennDOT announced as a “settlement” Aug. 25, removes the prerequisite of sexual reassignment surgery for a gender change on a license.

Those wishing to make a change to reflect the sex they are living as, as opposed to their physical sexual characteristics, and who have the backing of a physician or social worker actively practicing in the area of transgender counseling, may  now do so.

The decision was made following meetings over the past year with the advocacy group Equality Pennsylvania.

The ruling follows the lead of the U.S. Department of State, which in June implemented a similar change regarding gender indications for people applying for passports, said PennDOT spokeswoman Danielle Klinger. It also follows 26 states and the District of Columbia that do not require documentation of sexual reassignment surgery before changing the gender indication on a transgender individual’s driver’s license or identification card, she said.

‘Good step’

“A very good step,” said Fran McDaniel, director of the office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness at Bucknell University, Lewisburg.

A person’s driver’s license should reflect the gender they are living life, she said.

Almost as soon as the decision came down, however, the American Family Association of PA was critical.

“So, if an unsuspecting woman finds a man who thinks he is a woman standing naked next to her in the shower area of a health club,” the organization wrote to PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler, “…he can produce his official state-issued driver’s license to show he’s legally recognized by the state of Pennsylvania as a female.”

This scenario was not hypothetical for a female nursing professor at Western Michigan University, American Family Association of PA President Diane Gramley wrote. The professor felt violated and worried about protecting her dignity, Gramley said, and has recurring disturbing dreams about a man invading her house.

The organization is asking PennDOT to rescind this policy.

Not an issue

McDaniel said this type of thing is not the issue.

“It is a personal decision what bathroom people go into,” she said.

Meanwhile, at the Sunbury YMCA, Executive Director Bonnie Wassmer said the organization’s membership application doesn’t even ask gender.

She said it hasn’t been an issue and the expectation is that men will use men’s facilities and the women will use the women’s.

Is there a “legal” sex for any of us? A state trooper said, regardless of what a person’s driver’s license said, troopers would make “corrections” as necessary, especially regarding housing of a person in custody.

Klinger indicated PennDOT does not suggest that its licenses are the final arbiter on gender issues.

“The driver’s license is just one of many documents an individual can utilize as proof of identity,” she said, “however, the primary purpose of a driver’s license is to serve as proof that an individual has the basic knowledge and skills necessary to operate a motor vehicle.”

Gramley called the gender bending “a fundamental honesty- in-government issue.”

She said citizens should, at minimum, be able to trust their state government to tell them the truth.

In a series of meetings with Equality Pennsylvania, a group that advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, PennDOT did not include any conservative spokespersons or representatives from groups such as American Family Association of PA, Klinger said.

“PennDOT should stay out of this,” said Don Ely, of Sunbury, Republican state committeeman for Northumberland County.

Ely said members of Congress who were recently pushing for legislation to benefit gay and lesbian individuals conceded it was going too far to include transgender people.

‘Just too kooky’

“They knew the legislation would not stand a chance of passing if transgender provisions were to be included,” Ely said. “Many Americans feel it’s just too kooky.”

To the contrary, said Jeanine Ruhsam, president of Trans- Central PA, a transgender education association.

“It is vitally important that transgender Pennsylvanians have driver’s licenses that accurately reflect their lived gender,” she said. “Having one that misrepresents your lived gender ‘outs’ transgender people in many situations where they need to show their license — if stopped by police, in bars and restaurants, and while filling out forms for employers.

“This violates their privacy, puts them at risk for discrimination, and even opens them to violence.”

‘Victories change lives’

Equality Pennsylvania reported that it was aided in its discussions with PennDOT by TransCentral PA and the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

“These victories change people’s lives and that’s really what our advocacy role is all about,” said Equality Pennsylvania’s Board president Brian Sims.

Bucknell University spokesman Tom Evelyn said, to the best of his knowledge, no students have identified themselves to the university as transgender.

“If a student did identify as transgender, we would work with that student individually to promote an environment that would support the student’s academic success,” he said.