Discrimination and violence that target transgender people have increased significantly during the COVID pandemic. More folks are being turned away from housing and potential employment, in spite of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to ban LGBTQ employment discrimination. 

Transgender activists protest in Duncan Plaza to make gender affirming IDs easier to obtain. (Hope Byrd)

In addition, there has been a horrific spike in violence and killings against trans people across the country. To make matters worse, in mid-June, President Trump opened the door to transphobic discrimination in public housing the same week that two Black trans women were murdered.

In Orleans Parish, transgender folks were being discriminated against when seeking housing, work, healthcare, and public benefits even before the pandemic. Here’s a reason why: Very few transgender people have government IDs that match their identities. Gender affirming IDs would help protect transgender individuals from systemic violence and transphobia and allow for self-determination.

In response to the discrimination, activists came together last year to form the Real Name Campaign, a trans-led group that has pressured city officials to meet the demands of the trans community regarding changes of legal names and gender markers, the M or F, on an ID. City Council member Cyndi Nguyen, who met with the activists, had no idea, like many other public officials, that this was a problem. Unfortunately, the issue has persisted, even though the community has demanded that local government make ID changes easier.

This summer’s Black Lives Matter uprisings and the coalition work of trans community leaders, inspired campaign members to take decisive action. Transgender activists, moved by the work of  House of Tulip and Louisiana Trans Advocates and others like the  Freedom Road Socialist Organization  and Renters’ Rights Assembly, protested outside of Civil District Court to defend trans lives against recent attacks and to demand that local officials take steps toward making name changes more attainable.

The group’s actions worked! Before August of this year, the city of New Orleans charged $506 for name changes. The court reduced the fee to $250 as a result of the activists’ pressure.

However, the road to success has been tough. Initially, activists attempted to meet with Clerk of Civil District Court Chelsey Richard Napoleon to discuss the oppressive $506 name change fee imposed by the court. After a hard fight for a conversation with Ms. Napoleon,  activists were told that the clerk had nothing to do with setting the fees, and that responsibility rested with Judge Christopher Bruno, the chief judge of Civil District Court. 

Judge Bruno, like Ms. Napoleon, did not respond to activists’ request for a meeting. And the staff, unaware of trans name change needs, regarded the steep fee as an administrative money-maker, not a quality of life issue. One employee even directed activists  to the Judicial Expense Fund, which has no policy-making authority.  

So, the trans community organized a phone bank to flood Judge Bruno’s office with calls. The action crammed phone lines for two full business days, driving some staff members to hang up before the caller could talk. Within weeks, the fee was reduced, a huge victory for the New Orleans trans community.  

But there are other barriers to changing a name or gender marker that make it difficult to acquire a gender-affirming ID. For instance, the DMV requires a physician to swear under penalty of perjury that the individual has undergone a successful gender change. And Louisiana law requires proof of sex reassignment surgery and diagnosis as a transsexual before issuing a birth certificate with a new gender marker. But people who identify as transgender are not diagnosed. It is a self-described term used by many who do not identify with the gender or sex they were born with. So our policies and laws inhibit change.

 As a result, The Real Name Campaign plans to elevate its fight to advocate for accessible, more expansive, gender marker changes by taking on the DMV and the state of Louisiana. 

A petition demanding change has received over 1,000 signatures. Join the struggle! Sign the Real Name Campaign’s petition.  The trans community won’t stop until accessibility and dignity are achieved.

Dylan Sojic-Borne (she/her) and Mar Ehrlich (they/them) are organizers for the Real Name Campaign. Learn more about Real Name Campaign NOLA on Facebook or Instagram.

The Opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Opinion Editor Amy Stelly at astelly@thelensnola.org.