Texas Court Says Trans Man Can’t Be Listed as Male on His Driver’s License

The blue and pink transgender pride and rights flag.
A Houston man is running afoul of Texas’ onerous and opaque requirements for gender-marker changers on identification documents.

A Texas appeals court ruled last week that a transgender man isn’t entitled to change the gender marker on his driver’s license from “female” to “male.”

However, LGBT legal experts say they don’t expect the decision from the 14th Court of Appeals, which covers the Houston area, to have much practical impact, since so few local judges typically grant gender-marker changes in the first place.

Katie Sprinkle, a Dallas attorney who handles identification and gender marker cases, said some Democratic judges in Bexar, Dallas and Travis counties allow trans people to correct gender markers on their driver’s licenses and birth certificates if they provide proper documentation, including letters from doctors and therapists. Sprinkle also said the 14th Court of Appeals’ decision may be “persuasive,” but is not “binding,” on other jurisdictions.

“I don’t see anything in it that I think is going to change the status quo, because the status quo in 95 percent of the state is, they don’t do it anyway,” Sprinkle said. “Worst-case scenario, it goes up to the Texas Supreme Court, and they just put the kibosh on everything. There are at least several hundred thousand Texans that that could seriously adversely affect.”

The petitioner in the 14th Circuit case told the Observer he has no plans to appeal the decision to the state’s highest court. The man, who asked that his name be withheld to protect his privacy, filed a petition in Harris County’s 308th District Court in January 2015 seeking to change both his name and gender marker.

Four months later, a district judge granted the petitioner’s name change, but denied his gender-marker request — a decision that was affirmed by the appeals court on August 2.

“I’ve paid like $2,000 to still have a big fat ‘F’ on my driver’s license, despite being seen completely as a man as well as being post-operative,” said the petitioner, who began his transition five years ago. “It’s honestly jarring and heartbreaking.”

He said not having an accurate gender-marker creates confusion for potential employers and makes him reluctant to apply for jobs. He also said it puts him in fear for his safety.

“I do contract work in people’s homes,” he said. “What if someone wants to see my ID and then reacts irrationally to my mismatched gender marker?”

Sprinkle said despite the appeals court’s decision, the petitioner still could reapply for a gender-marker change in another county — an option he told the Observer he now plans to pursue.

According to the pro-LGBT Movement Advancement Project, Texas is one of 13 states with the most onerous requirements for gender-marker changes on driver’s licenses, and one of four states with unclear policies when it comes to birth certificates.

On its website, the Texas Department of Public Safety states that trans people can obtain gender-marker changes on their driver’s licenses if they present “an original certified court order verifying the change.”

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick walks past pro-LGBT protesters Tuesday inside the Fort Worth ISD Administration Building. He hosted a press conference where he spoke against the district’s new guidelines protecting transgender students, which he said could be used as a springboard to further advance his conservative "school choice" plan.
John Wright
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick walks past pro-LGBT protesters in Fort Worth. Patrick has made restricting transgender Texans’ bathroom access a hallmark of his public activities over the last several months.

According to Sprinkle, Texas judges who grant gender-marker changes rely on a provision of the state’s Health and Safety Code, which states that “an amending certificate may be filed to complete or correct a record that is incomplete or proved by satisfactory evidence to be inaccurate.”

The issue could become even more critical, Sprinkle said, if Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and other GOP lawmakers make good on threats to pass a law requiring trans people to use restrooms based on the sex assigned on their birth certificates.

“If you can get the bathroom bills, then the IDs come next because, ‘Oh, these people have fraudulently changed their IDs,’” she said. “That’s why fighting these bathroom bills is so important. It’s not just about this step; it’s about what comes next.”

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Published at 10:46 am CST