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San Francisco approves ID cards that exclude gender


By Emily Bazar



Next year, San Francisco will issue municipal identification cards showing the usual name, birthdate and photo.


What the card won't include: gender.


When other cities considered issuing ID cards without regard to legal status, the debate was over illegal immigrants. In San Francisco, where the Board of Supervisors approved such an ID on Tuesday, transgender activists added gender to the discussion.


"Transgender" is a broad term for people who do not identify with their birth sex. Those who refer to themselves as transgender include cross-dressers and transsexuals.


"The card really makes gender a non-issue," says Kristina Wertz, legal director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco.


Wertz says legally changing a name and gender designation can be time-consuming and cost hundreds of dollars. IDs that don't match appearance could "out" people and make them vulnerable to discrimination or abuse, she says.


Martin Rawlings, 30, is a female-to-male transsexual. When he legally changed his name in 1999, he had trouble getting his employer to change it on his paycheck. His bank, though, had changed his name.


As a result, he had trouble depositing his checks. A municipal ID would have helped, he says. "It's often a barrier to finding work, not having an identification that matches your presentation," he says.


Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who introduced the measure, says illegal immigrants will benefit most. They will be able to open bank accounts and use the card for city services such as checking out library books.


He expects others, including transgender individuals, to find it useful.


"When they go from one gender to another, the state gives them some hassle about what is desirable for validation," Ammiano says. "Having a municipal ID helps them quite a bit."


New Haven, Conn., the first city to issue such IDs, has issued 4,650 city ID cards since July. Jessica Mayorga, spokeswoman for Mayor John DeStefano, says there hasn't been a strong response from transgender people.


San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom intends to sign the ordinance within 10 days, spokesman David Miree says. Residents can start applying for the cards by next fall.


City departments must accept the ID, except where state or federal law requires otherwise. That could include federally funded programs such as Medicare, says Pilar Schiavo, an aide to Ammiano.


Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group, says he's concerned that use of the cards will encourage the idea that gender identity is flexible.


"It gives support to the philosophy that says gender is a social construct," Sprigg says. "I think that philosophy is harmful to society at large."

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