Transgender Voters Face Unique Challenges To Participating In Ohio's Election

Oct 7, 2020

For many trans people, legally changing their name is a definitive statement of who they are and an affirmation of their identity. The process is not easy, and a name change in Ohio can take months and a small mountain of paperwork.

It’s also playing into the fears of some trans people that the change could cost them their vote.

Kevyn Breedon was finally ready to change his name after months of saving money for fees and filling out forms. But after hearing the story of a friend, a fellow trans man, who was turned away at the polls during the primary due to a discrepancy with his name, Breedon decided to wait until after the election.

As Breedon puts it, he doesn’t want to jeopardize his eligibility to vote.

"Just to be on the safe side [I] decided I'd wait until after November 3," he said. "But who knows? I figure if a mistake like that can be made, if it was indeed a mistake in the before-times, then in the time where everyone is struggling and everything is uncertain, I would feel like that mistake would be more easily made in November."

Breedon is not the only trans person anxious over the election and his ability to participate. According to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, nearly 378,000 trans people across the country do not have legal ID that reflects their affirmed name or gender.

This could potentially pose a problem for those heading to the polls. But Eliana Turan, director of development for the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, describes voter IDs as being just one of multiple larger issues facing trans voters.

Another is harassment―even unintentional―built into the voting process. Turan says facing a ream of questions about discrepancies can make a polling place a hostile place.

"Unfortunately that happens to trans people all the time, just having to live our lives," Turan said. "We have to deal with that, but we shouldn't have to deal with that to exercise our right to vote. Voting should be a peaceful process that brings our country together, not tears it apart."

There are other issues people in the transgender community often face, including registering to vote. Taran says that often boils down to housing insecurity.

"A lot of trans people, because of systemic discrimination, don't necessarily have a stable place to stay," she said. "Or the place you're staying now might not be the place you were staying at when you registere."

So, Turan says, trans Ohioans must be proactive. For example, they must go online and check to make sure they are registered to vote. This can be done on the Secretary of State's website with their legal name and county of residence.

For some trans people, though, it’s not the process of voting that makes them feel disenfranchised, but rather the choices they face on ballots at the local, state and federal level.

Gage Gallaher, an Akron resident, is co-founder of the nonprofit WAKE Foodbank, which offers direct support to queer and Black Akron residents. While he hasn't faced technical challenges, Gallaher described what it's like being a trans voter in 2020.

"The problem for me is actually finding a candidate who cares about my community," he said. "There's so much pandering going on, especially during an election year. It's just absolutely wild because none of them are going to do a thing for my people."

Still, Gallaher is encouraging trans people to vote, even if it’s what he calls a “harm reduction thing.”

“If you vote for somebody who's the least bad, it's at least going to keep things from getting worse in our city,” he said.

And, he says, maybe over time, both the process of voting and the results of that voting will be more inclusive of the trans community.