Getting a Real ID-compliant driver’s license isn’t a huge hassle for most people, but if you’ve had your legal name and/or gender markers changed, things get difficult quickly.
Beginning next year, boarding a plane is just one of the things that will be more difficult to do without a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or ID. On Oct. 1, 2020, federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration, will no longer accept non-Real ID driver’s licenses or identification cards as valid forms of identification. Travelers without a Real ID will need to present a passport to access TSA security checkpoints, regardless of whether they will be flying internationally or not.
While the deadline to acquire a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card quickly approaches, the law which mandates Real ID has been in place for over a decade. The 9/11 Commission recommended that Congress establish minimum safety standards for state-issued IDs, and in 2005 Congress passed the Real ID Act.
Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses won’t look too different from driver’s licenses of the past (the only visible difference is the presence of a star in the corner), but according to the Department of Homeland Security, the security standards for Real ID include “information and security features that must be incorporated into each card; application information to establish the identity and immigration status of an applicant before a card can be issued; and physical security standards for facilities where driver’s licenses and applicable identification cards are produced.”
To obtain a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card, applicants must provide the following to the DMV:
- One proof of legal identity and legal presence
- Two proofs of Virginia residency
- One proof of social security number
- A current driver’s license if moving from another state and seeking to obtain a Virginia driver’s license for the first time.
Over 700,000 Virginians have already acquired a Real ID. But for many in Virginia and throughout the country, acquiring a Real ID is not as simple as merely providing the documents listed above.
“As I understand it, the DMV will turn you away if all your legal documents don’t match,” said Imogen Alsheskie, a transgender woman who is seeking to change her name legally.
People who have changed their name in the past will not be able to acquire a Real ID without additional documentation that shows proof of the name change. This can be presented to the DMV in the form of a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or a court order.
But acquiring a Real ID can be particularly tricky for people like Alsheskie, who does not have proof of a name change. Without the document showing proof of a name change, Alsheskie may not be able to obtain a Real ID due to the fact that other required documents may list different names.
“I’m going to try to get one by Oct. 2020,” Alsheskie said, noting that she would like to be able to visit family in Los Angeles with ease. “It’s difficult because I have to first legally change my name, which costs an extra $40 or so that I don’t have.”
For transgender and non-binary people, the obligation to acquire a Real ID by Oct. 2020 to access federal facilities poses a real problem on account of how difficult it can be to change your name. And for people that have documents with different genders listed, things can be even more complicated. Whereas the Virginia DMV includes a section on how to prove a name change in its guide on obtaining a Real ID, the guide entirely neglects to mention how individuals whose gender markers are listed differently on different documents can go about obtaining a Real ID.
What’s more, differing standards in different governmental departments can result in those differing gender markers being impossible to reconcile. GayRVA Editor-in-Chief Marilyn Drew Necci is listed as female but as male on her birth certificate. Since the state of Virginia requires certification of gender-confirming surgery, which she hasn’t had, in order to change the gender marker on her birth certificate, she’s stuck with documents that list two different gender markers.
“The surgery is very expensive, more than I can afford,” said Necci. “And now I have to worry that I’ll lose the female gender marker on my license if I try to get a Real ID using my birth certificate. The federal passport office has the same standard [requiring surgery in order to change gender markers], so even with a passport, I have the same problem.”
Alsheskie noted how frustrating the process is, saying that it has made part of her life more difficult.
“The process of changing my name feels as if I’m a character in a Kafka novel,” Alsheskie said. “The absurdity of bureaucracy stresses me out.”
Top Photo via VCU-CNS