Transgender people are scrambling to update their documentation

They aren’t sure what will happen after January 20.

CREDIT: Flickr/Ted Eytan
CREDIT: Flickr/Ted Eytan

The Trump presidency presents a major threat to the basic legal rights of LGBT people, who have expressed their terror in multiple news stories this week. In the wake of the election, transgender people in particular are acting with urgency.

One of the primary challenges transgender people face is making sure that their legal documentation matches their names and gender identities. This can include their birth certificates, driver’s licenses, social security cards, and passports, as examples. While the accessibility of adjusting some of those documents varies from state to state (particularly birth certificates, which in some states can never be changed), many of the federal documents can be updated quite easily.

For example, in 2010, the State Department — under the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — updated its policy to make it very simple for transgender people to obtain a passport identifying their correct name and gender identity. It’s also relatively easy to make sure the Social Security Administration’s records reflect the correct name and gender marker.

With no guarantee that these record changes will remain as accessible once President-Elect Donald Trump takes office, many lawyers are frantically working — often pro bono — to make sure that trans people have taken as many steps to protect themselves legally as they can while it’s still possible. The Twitter hashtag #TransLawHelp, started by @dtwps, is helping connect lawyers willing to provide this assistance with the many transgender citizens who, terrified, are desperately crying out for it.

ThinkProgress spoke with Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project, about the hashtag and the community’s needs moving forward.


THINKPROGRESS: Almost all of the protections transgender people currently have at the federal level have come from executive action and departmental guidance. What does a Trump/Pence White House look like for transgender people?

CHASE STRANGIO: It is hard to anticipate precisely what a Trump/Pence White House looks like for transgender people but certainly there are reasons to be concerned about what lies ahead for our community. Particularly for trans immigrants, Muslim people who are trans, and trans people of color, the prospect of a Trump presidency is particularly terrifying.

With many important protections coming through executive agency action, trans people will have to fight to maintain those and if we lose those protections, our already vulnerable community will be even more vulnerable to government-sanctioned and private discrimination.

The #TransLawHelp hashtag has been circulating this week with a certain urgency. What services are trans people seeking why are they important?

In the wake of the election, trans people across the country are concerned about their basic survival needs being met in the future. The #TransLawHelp hashtag was primarily aimed at connecting people to legal resources for updating name and gender markers on government-issued identification. With so many barriers — financial, medical, social, logistical — in place, it can be difficult for trans people to get identification that accurately identifies them by their name and gender.


Under the Obama administration, policies for updating a person’s gender marker with the Department of State, Social Security Administration, USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services], and other federal agencies, were made much less nerve-wracking. Trans people are rightfully concerned about getting accurate identification under existing standards and ensuring that their documentation is in order in case there are any changes to rules about when and how the information can be updated.

What suggestions would you offer to trans people who are concerned about what might happen after January 20?

For generations the trans community has mobilized and supported each other without the protections of the law or close to the amount of support we have from the larger community today. As we anticipate changes in government, I hope those of us with access to resources and information can make that available and support our community members who need help maintaining their health care, employment, and other life needs.

It makes sense to update paperwork, access health care, connect with other trans people and take care of ourselves as we prepare to continue to fight for our existence.

What has the demand been like? If other attorneys are interested in helping, how can they get involved?

The demand for information from trans people has been very high. I have heard from over 50 people and am hearing from friends and colleagues that they are hearing from comparable numbers of people. Lawyers across the country offering to help and people and contributing money to help people pay for the identification.


For attorneys interested in getting involved they should follow the #translawhelp hashtags and also connect with local trans/LGBT groups in the areas where they practice. Many people will never be able to find us online and may only be connected to people in person. Attorneys can also donate money to the different fundraising efforts since many of these forms of identification are cost prohibitive for people.