Texas Creates Chilling Registry of 16,000 People Who Changed Genders on Their Driver's Licenses

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (left) has led the state in its war on transgender residents.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (left) has led the state in its war on transgender residents.

Earlier this year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s (R) office requested the state Department of Public Safety to compile a list of transgender residents in the state, a DPS official confirmed to the Washington Post in a Wednesday report. A spokesperson for DPS told the Post that Paxton’s office made “a verbal request” calling for the total number of Texans who had changed the gender on their driver’s licenses or in other government records within the past two years.

“Need total number of changes from male to female and female to male for the last 24 months, broken down by month,” the chief of the DPS driver’s license division said in an email to colleagues that’s dated June 30. The emails shared with the Post specify that Paxton’s office requested this information. Some of these communications are specifically titled “AG Request Sex Change Data” and “AG data request.”

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Paxton’s office denies making any such request of DPS, despite these internal emails and the DPS spokesperson’s claim to the Post. According to Gillian Branstetter, a communications strategist at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and LGBTQ & HIV Project, we’ve seen this secrecy around Texas’ surveillance of trans people, before—at the state Department of Family and Protective Services, employees working on gender-affirming care-related investigations were instructed “to leave no paper trail,” Branstetter told Jezebel.

“I was never interested in giving Ken Paxton the benefit of the doubt, and the fact that he has now repeatedly attempted to cover his tracks when taking grave, traumatic steps to persecute trans people suggests any good intentions he claims to have are lies and cover-ups,” Branstetter said. Paxton’s office has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Texas DPS officials ultimately put together a list of 16,466 requests for gender changes on licenses between June 2020 and June of this year. But they struggled to determine the reasons for these requests—some Texans requested to change the gender on their license because they were trans, but others requested the change by mistake, or due to an error on their original license. “Ultimately, our team advised the AG’s office the data requested neither exists nor could be accurately produced. Thus, no data of any kind was provided,” the DPS spokesperson told the Post.

It’s a relief that this data ultimately wasn’t shared with Paxton’s office, as Paxton and other top Republicans in the state ramp up their efforts to surveil and terrorize trans Texans. Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed legislation to prohibit trans youth from participating in sports at school. This year, the governor directed the state to investigate families with trans kids and health providers who offer gender-affirming care to young people for child abuse. Several families were investigated as a result, including the family of a trans teen who attempted to take their life while an investigation was underway.

The Post’s reporting suggests that Texas is now following the lead of other anti-trans state governments and expanding the scope of its attacks beyond trans youth to target trans adults who have driver’s licenses. Formerly, anti-trans lawmakers claimed they were just concerned that kids were “too young” to know they were trans. But earlier this month, Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma introduced a bill to ban gender-affirming care broadly—even for adults. Across the country, as of November, more than half of states have sought to restrict gender-affirming health care in some way.

It’s chilling to consider what Paxton’s office might have done with access to a registry of trans residents in the state, Branstetter told Jezebel. “It’s hard to fathom any innocent reason that this information would be sought by any attorney general, and in particular, Ken Paxton,” she said.

“The one person I don’t want knowing about my gender status is Ken Paxton,” one trans woman, Salkeld Garcia, told the Post. “I don’t want a cop pulling me over and knowing I’m trans. That is why I changed my gender marker extremely quickly.”

The Post’s reporting comes as last month, lawmakers in Texas introduced legislation for next year’s session that would classify gender-affirming care as child abuse. “It’s hard to imagine where it stops, and certainly, attempting to build the list of a marginalized group—which is frequently portrayed by elected officials in Texas as a contagion, as a danger to you and your family—the historical echoes are dark,” Branstetter said. “It raises really alarming questions about the depth of their cause, their cruelty and disregard for the rights and humanity of transgender people.”

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