How a Transgender Person Helped Bring Down Pennsylvania’s Discriminatory Voter ID Law

By Patrick Paschall, Senior Policy Counsel, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

In exciting breaking news, a state judge in Pennsylvania today ruled that Pennsylvania’s draconian photo-identification law that would have required all voters to present photo-ID before being allowed to vote violates the federal and state constitutions. While this case has seen a lot of attention on the national scale about laws in various states making it more difficult for various populations to vote, you may not know that in this case one of the plaintiffs helping to bring down the draconian law is openly transgender.

Must show ID to VOTEAsher Schor, an openly transgender Pennsylvanian, bravely put his name on the legal case and testified in court about the barriers that transgender people face in accessing photo identification, as well as the discrimination transgender people often experience when required to show photo identification.

In Court, Schor testified that he has had difficulty accessing places he must access for his job, such as federal court houses, because the photo identification he has doesn’t match his appearance. Indeed, Schor is one of the estimated 5,570 transgender people in Pennsylvania who are otherwise eligible voters but lack access to updated photo identification necessary to vote under the voter-ID law.

At the Task Force, we’ve been working on the issue of access to identification for transgender people for a long time. We know that accurate IDs are the key to accessing so many parts of society – getting a job or buying a house, purchasing simple products with a credit card or going to a bar/restaurant, and a whole host of other things, including voting.

The Williams Institute estimated that over 25,000 transgender people were at risk for disenfranchisement in light of the new strict photo-identification laws passed in nine states across the country, with 5,570 at risk in Pennsylvania. According to the Williams Institute, that would block 30% of eligible transgender people from voting in Pennsylvania.

The Williams Institute estimates were based on data found in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, which found:

  • On state-issued ID, 41% of transgender people live without ID that matches their gender identity.
  • One-third (33%) had updated none of their IDs or records with their new gender.
  • Only one-fifth (22%) of transgender people have been able to update all of their IDs and records with their new gender.

When you have experienced harassment and violence for showing your photo ID, it’s easy to understand why you’d be afraid to show that photo ID to a government official in order to vote. Especially when the National Transgender Discrimination Survey finds that a whopping twenty percent (20%) of transgender people were harassed or disrespected by government agencies or officials.

The Task Force is encouraged by the news that judges are still there to protect the vulnerable from disenfranchisement on the part of lawmakers that don’t want poor, elderly, transgender people, and people of color to participate in the voting process.

Here’s what our Executive Director, Rea Carey, had to say about today’s ruling:

“Today’s ruling is fantastic news for the over 5,000 transgender Pennsylvanians who currently lack access to photo identification, and would therefore have been disenfranchised under the draconian photo-identification law.  This ruling means that transgender people without photo ID – an estimated 30% of the transgender population in Pennsylvania ‹ will still have the opportunity to participate in the very center of American democracy: voting. We congratulate our friends at Equality Pennsylvania for highlighting the disparate impact that photo-identification laws have on transgender people and to Asher Schor for bravely speaking truth to power about the impact of these laws on transgender people.”

This news comes on the heels of the introduction of federal legislation to repair the damage done by the Supreme Court’s decision last summer to gut the Voting Rights Act of key provisions that protect historically disenfranchised groups from discrimination in the polling place.

At the Task Force, we’re going to continue to stand up for the voting rights of LGBT people, low-income people, people of color, the elderly, and other historically disadvantaged and disenfranchised populations.