Feb 26, 2024 - News

Trans Floridians push back against new ID rule

Protesters stage a "die-in" by lying on the sidewalk.

Demonstrators stage a "die-in" to protest a new state rule aimed at transgender people. Photo: Sommer Brugal/Axios

When Steven Rocha received his new driver's license — one that matched his gender expression — he nearly cried.

  • There were so many spaces he would have to present his ID, and as a queer transgender man, it was "always kind of uncomfortable and sometimes scary depending on where I was to essentially be outed by my license that wasn't up to date."

Why it matters: Without identification that matches their gender expression, trans Floridians face the risk of being outed at every traffic stop, visit to the polls, beer run, hotel check-in and more, advocates say.

  • In a survey of 1,100 trans Floridians, 37% of respondents said such a situation led to denial of service, harassment or assault.
  • That data was collected in 2015, years before a recent surge of GOP-led legislation in Florida and across the country thrust trans people and gender identity into the spotlight.

Driving the news: Transgender advocates staged six "die-in" demonstrations across Florida earlier this month objecting to a new state rule barring transgender people from changing the gender markers on their driver's licenses.

  • About a dozen young people protested in front of the DMV just east of Little Havana, carrying trans flags and homemade tombstones that read "The Florida DMV killed me," written in both English and Spanish, and "Hate kills."
  • Rocha led the demonstration in both English and Spanish, explaining that he wanted to reach those who don't consume English-language media, which has been "where most of the coverage has really been," he tells Axios.

The big picture: The ID rule follows restrictions on health care for both trans children and adults, limitations on how trans teachers and students can refer to themselves in schools, and bans on using certain restrooms.

What they're saying: "This is about harming trans Floridians who just want to live their lives as they are," Maxx Fenning, executive director of the youth-led LGBTQ+ rights group PRISM, tells Axios. (Fenning participated in the Miami demonstration.)

The other side: "In Florida, you do not get to play identity politics with your driver's license," Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles spokesperson Molly Best tells Axios.

  • The rule change arose from a review requested by HSMV executive director Dave Kerner, who was appointed to the post last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis, to ensure the agency's policies aligned with state law, Best says.
  • Those who face threats or harassment as a result of the policy should report their concerns to law enforcement, she says.

However, trans people, especially those of color, are more susceptible to mistreatment by police, making that option also fraught, according to the Williams Institute, an independent think tank dedicated to research on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Meanwhile, the agency's unpublicized rollout of the policy wreaked fear and confusion for trans people across the state. A memo notifying tax collectors said that "misrepresenting one's gender" on their driver's license constitutes criminal fraud.

  • Trans Floridians who had changed their gender markers prior to the rule wondered if they could face penalties. ("No," Best tells Axios.)
  • Those who hadn't yet, saw their window of opportunity suddenly close.

The bottom line: Rocha was "pleasantly surprised" by the crowd's reaction to the demonstration, during which people were "coming up and asking genuine questions to find out what's going on and even expressing sympathy," he tells Axios.

  • "People can recognize the ways in which people are hurt when it's explained simply and openly."
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