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NCTE’s Voting While Trans Campaign Fights Voter Suppression

by Holly Grigg-Spall
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday October 25, 2012

The National Center for Transgender Equality has launched Voting While Trans, an awareness campaign that will prove vital in the coming weeks. The program aims to educate transgender people and poll workers on the potential for misunderstandings, confusion and discrimination at the voting booths in November. It also helps to counter voter suppression tactics directed at presumed Democratic demographics, which have the potential to impact the trans community's right to vote.

"We want to flag the possible issues for those in danger states. A driver's license still states your sex, despite the photograph, so if this is made a requirement for voting it could cause a problem if it hasn't been changed to reflect the current information. Or you might have changed your name and sex on everything but the voter registration records," explains Mara Keisling, executive director of the NCTE. "Some states won't let you change your name unless you've had what they call 'sex change surgery,' which is hard to define and restrictive. According to the UCLA William's Institute, 25,000 transpeople could potentially be disenfranchised. A transperson could be accused by a poll worker of trying to fool them, or they could face harassment, even violence. You shouldn't have to come out as trans to a poll worker."

The campaign has produced a number of public service announcements with prominent trans activists to publicize this information and get the message out to those who need to hear it most.

Only one-fifth of transgender people who have transitioned, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, have been able to update all of their IDs and records with their new gender, and one-third had updated none of their IDs or records. At the time of the survey, only 59 percent had been able to update their gender on their driver's license or state ID. In states considering voter ID laws or that already have them in place, 40 percent of the transgender population does not have an updated driver's license and 29 percent have no identification that lists their current gender.

Keisling hopes the campaign will remind those who have never had issues voting previously that this could be the year that they do. With organizations like True the Vote training "poll watchers" to catch those committing voter fraud (despite lack of evidence that voter fraud exists as a significant problem), anyone at risk of being denied their right to vote must be vigilant.

The NCTE recommends transpeople download the checklist of necessary documents and the information on voting law specific to their state from the Voting While Trans website and take it with them to vote. If someone cannot afford to change his or her driver's license information he/she should be sure to carry the telephone number provided to use for advice if problems arise.

To poll workers Keisling suggests they be aware and sensitive to the possibility of ID discrepancies and attend to each situation within the law, or call the number provided to them by the voter if they are uncertain of how to proceed.

"Voting While Trans covers transgender people and those who are gender non-conforming. Voter ID laws aim to impact people with the fewest resources, tools and the least representation," explains HRC attorney Robin Maril. "The NCTE has provided these resources and tools as an aid for prevention. When at the polls, everyone should cast their vote as best they can, even if this means providing a provisional ballot and allowing them to verify your identification afterwards. We all need to be pro-active to make sure our vote is registered. Ignorance and discrimination is hard to counter alone, but misuse of laws can be overcome with the right information and the determination to exercise your right."

Trans activist Janet Mock appears in one of the PSAs.

"I was personally invested in urging all people -- not just trans folks, but all disenfranchised communities -- to be equipped with information that would give them agency to protect their right to vote," Mock describes of her involvement. "I've had a privileged experience with voting because I sought out resources very early on in my life that shepherded me through the process of updating all my ID documents. But my experience is not indicative of many trans folks, specifically low-income communities and people of color who don't have adequate resources to update their IDs in time for Election Day."

NCTE’s TONI Project Helps Trans on Campus

Last month the NCTE launched the TONI Project, named after an intern for the organization who has penned a survival guide for trans students for his own college campus, but also standing for Transgender On-Campus Nondiscrimination Information. Prospective and current students can use the resource to share and discover information relating to campus housing policies, healthcare, public safety or events for U.S. universities. The information provided is established organically and reflects experiential knowledge as well as official college policies.

As states often look to public institutions such as colleges for guidance on non-discriminatory policy and colleges are often the first environments to be trans-inclusive, such a project could prove to have a wide influence.

"We hope that sharing this information directly from those it affects will pressure schools to do better about inclusivity and trans-affirmative action. We also hope it will highlight where there are problems and provoke organization and activism amongst college students to make a change," said Keisling.

Co-creator and supporter of the TONI Project, Campus Pride, has a National Index that serves a similar purpose as a bench-marking tool for assessing the LGBT-friendliness of college campuses across the country.

"The TONI Project looks at student perception and opinion, whereas our index looks at policy, practice and programs. A campus might have the right policies but student perception could be that the campus is in fact unfriendly, so this is important," said Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer. "Also, some universities rely on students to do the work to make the campus friendly and safe. Students should be concentrating on going to classes and graduating and the colleges should take this responsibility and make clear policy and instigate programs. The inclusiveness of a campus is important to prospective LGBT and non-LGBT students alike and colleges should take note to attract higher enrollment."

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