Skirting the Issues: Plan E

Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida
Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida

There’s an important new survey to determine how transpeople interact with the Minnesota courts.

But—big surprise—first a story.

A half dozen years ago, before I ever got the guts to transition from boy to girl, a fifty-something named Julie walked into my Cedar Rapids law office.

Julie was a true pioneer—the first transgender to transition at her employer, a large manufacturer where she worked as an electrical engineer. She had done almost everything that any male-to-female could hope for—name change, the bathroom issue at work, surgery. She even preserved her marriage to a very understanding woman.

What brought Julie to my office was, on paper, a piece of cake. She wanted to change the gender marker on her Iowa driver’s license from “M” to “F.” Iowa law made that fairly easy for people who had Iowa birth certificates.

Julie’s problem? She was born in Wyoming.

I thought I’d take a shortcut. I filed a motion with the Court requesting that it issue a one line statement acknowledging that Julie had undergone sexual reassignment surgery and now was truly “female.” I figured the DMV wouldn’t ignore a judge’s pronouncement about Julie’s new gender.

A couple days later, I received the Court’s answer: “Motion denied.” 

I thought, What the hell?

After all, no one actually opposed my motion. The DMV couldn’t have cared less; all they wanted was a court order.

I went to Plan B. I called the judge who had denied my motion. I asked if I could meet with him in person. He refused. I then asked if he’d at least hear me out on the telephone. Reluctantly, he agreed.

“Your Honor,” I said. “There’s no dispute that my client’s a woman now. She simply wants her driver’s license to reflect current reality. With all due respect, why is this an issue?”

He hesitated. I couldn’t understand why.

Finally, the judge barked, “I’m not going to sign the order. I won’t stick my neck out.”

Stick your neck out? 

Then I remembered. Another Iowa judge—this one in Sioux City—was the subject of a recall petition because he had granted two lesbians a divorce. The judge had made an honest mistake—the divorcing couple had ambiguous first names, which made it appear they were of opposite genders. It didn’t matter that the judge only dealt with paperwork and never even eyed the parties to know they were lesbian.

In the end, the Sioux City judge barely kept his job.

I fell back to Plan C. I found an attorney in Wyoming to open a court case to ask that Julie’s Wyoming birth certificate be modified. The attorney assured me he was up to the task.

When the day for the hearing in Cheyenne arrived, the attorney suddenly backed out. “I can’t risk what this could to my reputation,” he confessed.

“Coward”, I said to myself.

On to Plan D. I located a brave woman attorney who volunteered at the ACLU. “I’ll do it,” she proclaimed.

Eight months and nearly $5000 after Julie first walked into my office, she had a court order attesting to her true gender. A day later, the Iowa DMV gave her a new driver’s license, this one with “F” for a gender marker.

The take-away here is that fear, bigotry, and ignorance in the court system—by lawyers, judges, and even clerks and bailiffs—can be devastating for transpeople trying to make their way to completeness. Yes, the court system can be unfair to anyone—whether straight or the other alphabet letters, L, G, and B. However, transpeople are the only group who have to lay out their innermost secrets—“I was born one gender, now I’m really the other”—in order to get something easy like a driver’s license change.

The starting point is to understand exactly what problems exist for transpeople. To do this, OutFront Minnesota and Call for Justice, LLC, have created an on-line questionnaire which asks transpeople about their interaction with the Minnesota civil and criminal court systems.

The survey can be found at

If you’re transgender and have interacted with the Minnesota court system, this is your chance to be heard. Take the survey. You can even volunteer for a focus group.

The study is part of yet another plan—Plan E.

“E” for Equality. 

Ellen Krug can be contacted at [email protected].

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