There have been few elections as critical to transgender Americans as this year’s midterms. Over the past year, 238 anti-trans bills have reportedly been introduced in dozens of state legislatures. Trans people and allies have undertaken vast efforts to beat back the onslaught of bigoted bills that have dotted the landscape of late. The most straightforward way to combat such acts, of course, is to vote for elected representatives who can best protect our basic human rights.
But hundreds of thousands of trans people could find themselves disenfranchised at the ballot box this year thanks to the strict voter ID laws many red states have passed over the last decade. At the same time, in the run-up to this year’s midterm elections, conservatives have blanketed the airwaves with ads spreading false information about trans people and their rights.
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Trans issues have become an obsession in conservative politics since marriage equality became the law of the land. And now trans people seeking to exercise the right as participants in our democratic system by casting ballots on Election Day are being squeezed into an impossible position: demonized by bills that threaten our existence, while enduring violent propaganda that spreads false information to the same effect and being denied the single action that could best protect ourselves.
Add to that a Republican effort to intimidate voters, with armed right-wing groups patrolling early voting drop boxes in some states, and a large effort to recruit so-called poll watchers who want to interfere with the democratic process, and many trans people, who face a rising threat of transphobic violence, may feel too intimidated to even try to exercise their right to vote.
According to an NBC News report, more than 200,000 trans people in the U.S. could face voter restrictions related to voter ID laws. The reason is fairly simple to understand: Trans people often live in identities that do not match up with their legal IDs.
In many states, changing the gender marker on your legal identification is an onerous and often expensive process. Many states require trans people to have costly surgery or have doctors sign off on medical transitions. Some states, like Idaho, have fought back against the ability of trans people to change their legal gender markers at all.
I first socially transitioned in the fall of 2016. I came out at work that October, in the midst of the 2016 presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. On Election Day, I made my way over to the local polling place in styled, long hair and a layered fall outfit straight out of a Christian girl autumn Instagram post. But my ID was still associated with my previous identity, featuring a photo that was no longer recognizable.
Thankfully, my state, Maine, didn’t require me to present an ID to vote, so everything went fairly seamlessly. But for countless trans voters living in voter ID states, voting can turn into a nightmare of awkward and invasive explanations, or even outright hostility.
In 2018, a Vermont trans woman was initially denied the right to vote in the governor’s race because a poll worker refused to accept the gender marker on her ID. According to an Into report, the poll worker accused her of using a fake ID. Similar incidents of trans people’s being denied or restricted in their right to vote thanks to identification issues have popped up in several states.
If that is happening in liberal Vermont, it’s likely to be even worse in the ruby red states where lawmakers have openly declared war on trans people.
Not only have trans people’s lives and freedoms come under unprecedented targeted threat from their conservative state governments, but their ability to democratically fight back against attacks on their rights has also taken a hit from conservative voter ID laws and restrictions.
In a country that supposedly prides itself on voting and democracy, this is a real travesty. As the most important election in U.S. transgender history looms on the horizon, I’m thinking about the trans community as a voting bloc. We might be small, but we’re resilient. I just hope each of us gets our voices heard Tuesday — and counted.