“Gary Glenn, president of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan, wants the issue to be front and center in the race. ‘There are … serious implications for women’s privacy rights and comfort, since women and girls would legally be forced to share public restrooms, showers, locker rooms and changing areas with men who, if challenged, can present an official government ID “proving” their claim to be women,’ he says.”
February 13, 2010
Michigan Secretary of State candidates make gender an issue?
Gender designation on driver’s license discussed
by Mike Householder
DETROIT (AP) — People in Michigan make changes to their driver’s licenses all the time. They get a new picture, switch addresses or become an organ donor.
What’s much less common is changing their gender designation from an “M” to an “F” or vice versa.
Republican Paul Scott is trying to make gender designation an issue in the race to replace term-limited Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. The state representative from Grand Blanc says people who have undergone gender change operations shouldn’t be able to change their licenses to reflect their new identities.
He brought up the issue in a letter announcing he was jumping into the race for the GOP secretary of state nomination.
Scott, state senators Michelle McManus and Cameron Brown and Calhoun County Clerk Anne Norlander are running for the GOP nomination, while Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey and Wayne State University law professor Jocelyn Benson are seeking the Democratic one. Party activists will formally nominate their candidates in late August.
Scott’s letter has drawn a variety of responses, from ire on the part of transgender advocacy groups to praise by conservative activists.
Some are wondering why it’s an issue at all. Gender change requests for driver’s licenses are rare, and the secretary of state’s office doesn’t track them, says spokeswoman Kelly Chesney. Arlene Kish and Tina Seitz say the issue is personal, not political. Both were born men and have undergone sex change surgery.
Kish, a 59-year-old business owner from Southgate, had the procedure done last month and soon after had her driver’s license changed to reflect that she now is a woman. She took a signed document from her surgeon to a secretary of state branch to back up her request.
When she heard Scott was making an issue out of what’s already a standard practice, she was outraged. “It’s very disturbing, because we’re such a small segment of the population,” she says.
Seitz, who also lives in the Detroit area, had sex-change surgery 2 1/2 years ago and also had her driver’s license updated.
“I think that it should not be one of the major issues of a campaign,” says Seitz, a 52-year-old engineer. “I think that it’s ridiculous to single out any group of people where it affects so few people and call that a major campaign issue.”
State policy says a person’s gender designation on a driver’s license can be changed only when the person provides a court order or doctor’s statement certifying that the applicant has completed the medical treatments necessary to switch their gender.
The long-standing policy was briefly modified five years ago before Land ordered that it be changed back to be consistent with the approach taken by other state government departments.
Scott says he “didn’t raise (the issue). Secretary Land raised it when she temporarily changed the policy in 2005. “In his announcement letter, though, Scott writes: “I will make it a priority to ensure transgender individuals will not be allowed to change the sex on their driver’s license in any circumstance.”
Scott, a first-term lawmaker, doesn’t consider raising the issue a political ploy. “My personal belief is you are who your DNA says you are, regardless of what surgical procedures you may have thereafter,” he says.
William Rustem of Public Sector Consultants, a Lansing think tank, says Scott may have found a way to distinguish himself from his three GOP rivals.
“It’s an issue that divides, and it certainly could help him get a nomination,” Rustem says. “It’s a political strategy to grab a hold of the most conservative voters and say, `They’re mine.”‘
Some of Scott’s competitors see the issue as being too narrow to be of much consequence.
“It happens very, very infrequently” and “is not at the top of my agenda,” Republican Norlander says. Benson, a Democrat, doesn’t believe the issue has a place in the campaign.
“I don’t think it’s the government’s role to get in between an individual and their choice of gender expression,” she says. It’s “being used solely to throw divisiveness into a campaign that should be about how to make government work better for all our citizens.”
But Gary Glenn, president of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan, wants the issue to be front and center in the race.
“There are … serious implications for women’s privacy rights and comfort, since women and girls would legally be forced to share public restrooms, showers, locker rooms and changing areas with men who, if challenged, can present an official government ID `proving’ their claim to be women,” he says.
Kish just wants to see the issue go away. “I’m not sure exactly why it’s an issue for them, except that they’re just ignorant of our situation,” she says.