MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday questioned Alabama's requirement for a transgender person to undergo full gender reassignment surgery before they can change the sex on their driver's license, suggesting that a license that contradicts a person's public appearance essentially marks them with a "scarlet letter T."
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson held a hearing in the 2018 lawsuit filed by three transgender women seeking to change the gender on their state license.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiffs, said the requirement to show proof of sex-altering surgery is an unconstitutional violation of privacy and a person's ability to make their own medical decisions. The ACLU said Alabama differs from most states and the federal government that allow people to change the gender identity on a government-issued ID without proof of surgery.
Thompson denied both sides' requests for summary judgment in their favor. He said he will rule later if the case will go to trial or it will make a decision based on submissions to the court.
While he did not rule in the case, Thompson noted the violence faced by transgender individuals after a state attorney contended the Alabama policy treats everyone the same. Thompson said a person would be publically disclosed as transgender if they present a license that does not match their daily public appearance.
"You might as well have a scarlet letter T," Thompson said. "Transgender people are actually attacked and killed for who they are," Thompson said.
Assistant Attorney General Brad Chynoweth told Thompson said the state has a law enforcement interest in proper identification and has a simple rule on changing gender designation.
"We are not requiring people to get surgery," he said.
ACLU attorney Gabriel Arkles said the requirement is the state deciding who is "real woman or enough of a man" and takes away the ability of transgender people to conduct their lives with dignity.
While some transgender people get full sex-altering surgery, the ACLU has said that not all transgender people can afford it or may not want it for various reasons, including preserving the ability to have children at a later date.
"The state should not be in the business of regulating what medical care people get," Arkles said.
Arkles said of one of the plaintiffs in the case was told she "would burn in hell" after showing her license at a bank.
Darcy Corbitt, one of the plaintiffs, has previously described how she was subjected to "blatant cruelty" when she went to get her license after moving back to Alabama to pursue her doctoral degree at Auburn University. She said the clerk's friendliness evaporated when she saw her previous Alabama license listed male under gender and then began referring to her as "it" and "he."
The ACLU has said Alabama is one of about nine states that require proof of surgery to change the gender identification on a state ID.