For some people, a passport is a ticket to travel.
But for transgender people — especially since the U.S. presidential election — a passport may be as much about identity as identification.
Some advocates fear what will happen under the conservative administration of President-elect Donald Trump, and a Republican-controlled Congress, to marriage equality, transgender access to bathrooms of their chosen gender, and other issues.
The Trump campaign has not provided specifics on any of these issues.
So advocates are calling on transgender people to get their documents in order before Inauguration Day — to protect their identity and themselves.
“We have to keep our people safe to the extent that we can and that’s what getting the documents changed are about,” Christina DiEdoardo, a San Francisco-based attorney and transgender woman, told Healthline.
Free legal aid
Much is uncertain right now, but one policy that could be changed after Trump takes office is a 2010 State Department rule that allows transgender people to change their gender on their passport with a certification from a doctor that they have “undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.”
Prior to this rule, which was approved under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, transgender people had to show proof of a sexual reassignment surgery.
DiEdoardo credits this policy with allowing her to finally get a “gender congruent passport.”
She may have had to wait several years for a new passport, but even updating her birth certificate and driver’s license was not easy.
When she transitioned in 2005 during her last semester of law school in Nevada, the state had no formal procedure for a person to change their name and gender on their birth certificate and driver’s license.
So she figured out a process on her own. She also helped about 18 other people, before the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) “took exception” to it and they were ordered to stop.
Her efforts, though, were not wasted.
“It was one of those situations where losing the battle won the war because that started a conversation with DMV,” DiEdoardo said.
However, in other states, including Michigan and Missouri, a person has to prove that they have had a sex reassignment surgery prior to changing the gender on a birth certificate.
It can be a daunting process, especially if states require court hearings like California does.
Which is what prompted DiEdoardo to post on her own Facebook page an offer of pro bono legal help.
“The response was best described as a flood,” she said.
This has since grown into a free legal clinic held at the Berkeley Public Library — courtesy of librarian Jack Baur — and staffed by other attorneys offering their services to transgender and nonbinary people.
“I think we’ve tapped into something because a lot of people, with good reason, are very concerned with what could happen to us after January 20,” she said.
Across the country, similar efforts are connecting transgender people with lawyers and other people familiar with the process of changing name and gender.
Not every part of the country, though, is seeing the same kind of support as San Francisco.
“There is enough legal assistance in many states, but we are still struggling to find attorneys in more rural and isolated communities,” Carl Charles, an attorney based in New York and a spokesperson for TransLawHelp.org, told Healthline.
Some people seeking help were motivated by the election outcome, but Charles said he has also “heard from a lot of people who put it off because of cost/intimidation of the process.”
To help low-income transgender people cover application fees and court costs — which can run in the hundreds of dollars — crowdfunding site YouCaring has raised more than $10,000 so far.
Other people are just thankful to find transgender-conscious legal assistance.
“Going through a law firm that is specifically geared toward our community, I thought it would be much better for me,” Eirynn BeauxChamp, a resident of Brooklyn, New York, who describes herself as a “woman of trans experience,” told Healthline.
BeauxChamp reached out on Twitter for help in getting a new passport. She had changed her name, Social Security card, and other documents earlier this year, but she had left her passport until now.
DiEdoardo suggests that people do the passport along with all the other documents.
Concerns for others, too
Transgender people are not alone in wondering what a Trump administration will bring for them.
According to NPR, some women are posting on social media that they are looking into long-term birth control like the IUD — in case the Obamacare provision that covers contraception is eliminated after the inauguration.
In all, many in the transgender community are bracing for a rough ride over the next few years.
“I honestly think we won’t know for a year or two, as it takes a long time for Congress and the Supreme Court to figure things out,” said BeauxChamp. “I do think it’s important regardless of the situation. You never know what will happen in the coming years.”