Alexander Clarke-Ritter sits facing his attorney in a conference room on the 34th floor of the U.S. Bank Tower in downtown Portland. On the table between them sits a small stack of personal documents.
“I need to renew my passport. It’s going to expire within the next four years,” Clarke-Ritter said. “I also need to update my birth certificate not only with my new name but also my gender marker, because it still says female.”
On his birth certificate, there’s a line through Alexandria Brittany Ritter. Today he’s Alexander Elliot Clarke-Ritter; a thick-bearded, 26-year-old history student at Portland State University.
“Part of being trans is you want to be recognized and validated by society,” he said. “So having all those documents up to date essentially legitimizes who I am as a person.”
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Oregon and Washington have been leaders in providing new rights to LGBTQ men and women. Now advocates in the Pacific Northwest are encouraging transgender men and women to update their federal documents before the Trump administration takes over.
Over the last several years, state laws and agency policies at the federal level have made it easier for transgender people to updated documents. But advocates fear policies at the federal level could get rolled back under the new administration.
When Clarke-Ritter first started his transition six years ago, Oregon required proof of surgery before it would change the gender on a person’s birth certificate. Lawmakers in Salem did away with that requirement in 2014.
“Transgender rights are not necessarily recognized under federal law,” said Tony Kullen, Clarke-Ritter’s attorney. “Those politics could change just as easily with the snap of a finger under the new administration. There’s no rulemaking process, it wouldn’t need to go through notice and comment or have to go out to have a vote on it or anything like that.”
President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t said anything that would suggest there would be a change and made comments in support of transgender rights during the Republican primaries. But advocates like Sasha Buchert, the staff attorney at the Transgender Law Center in California, still worry.
“Stepping back and looking at the extreme hostility that the folks that Donald Trump has surrounded himself with, like Pence, vice president-elect, who has passed and supported supremely anti-LGBT-based legislation in Indiana,” Buchert said. “It’s pretty clear that they’re going to be attempting to roll back protections.”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence is a born-again evangelical Christian who has advocated for conversion therapy for gays and lesbians and opposed same-sex marriage. While governor of Indiana, Pence supported a “religious freedom” law that many legal experts said would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ customers. The law was eventually scaled back.
This fall, Pence told conservative commentator James Dobson that a Trump administration will stop federal efforts to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and let local governments have more control over such policies.
“A Trump-Pence administration will be dedicated to preserving the liberties of our people, including the freedom of religion that’s enshrined in our bill of rights,” Pence said.
After the election, the ACLU of Oregon partnered with attorneys and other nonprofit groups to host a series of legal clinics in Portland and Eugene aimed at helping transgender Oregonians get state, and especially federal, documentation in order. Organizers say more than 350 people attended.
Kullen said getting updated documents has practical importance when it comes to things like going through airport security, traveling internationally or even ordering at a bar.
“There’d be a concern of, ‘Are you the person on the documents?’” Kullen said. “Someone’s documents should represent who they are.”
His client, Clarke-Ritter, has completed the process of applying for a new passport as well as his birth certificate. Having transitioned under the Obama administration, he said he’s never felt an urgency to update his federal documents.
“It’s kind of terrifying,” he said. “It feels like I have a lack of control over my identity. The idea that the Trump-Pence administration could potentially bar trans folks from being who they are.”