Updated Jan 30, 2024 - News

Florida bans transgender people from changing ID to match gender identity

An illustration of a transgender gender sign

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has quietly rescinded a policy allowing transgender people to obtain a driver's license corresponding with their gender identity.

Why it matters: The policy change effectively bans trans Floridians from obtaining a license that matches their gender and opens them up to possible criminal prosecution and loss of their license.

  • Trans advocates have also noted such a rule would end legal recognition of transgender people in Florida.

Plus: The new rules mirror a bill currently moving through the Legislature. By making the change administratively, the department is bypassing the legislative process and preventing trans people from updating their gender marker ahead of the bill becoming law.

Driving the news: The change, outlined in a memo issued Friday by deputy director Robert Kynoch, makes sex assigned at birth, not gender identity, the determining factor for the gender marker on a driver's license.

  • Kynoch issued the memo to county tax collectors' offices. The department did not publicly announce the change.

Zoom in: The term "gender" in the state law governing license requirements "does not refer to a person's internal sense of his or her gender role or identification," the memo says.

  • It adds that gender "has historically and commonly been understood as a synonym for 'sex,' which is determined by innate and immutable biological and genetic characteristics."

Reality check: Nowhere in the statute is the term "gender" defined.

Yes, but: The pending legislation would make that change, replacing mentions of "gender" in the statute with "sex."

State of play: Until now, a trans person seeking to change their gender marker could present documentation from another state, a court order or a physician's certification stating that they are undergoing gender-affirming care, the pending bill's staff analysis says.

  • The memo says permitting someone to change their gender on their license "undermines the purpose of an identification record and can frustrate the state's ability to enforce its laws."

Between the lines: Alejandra Caraballo, an attorney and trans advocate who publicized the memo on X, said the wording appears to apply the new policy to trans people who changed their gender marker even before the change.

  • "If the language used in this directive is taken at face value, any trans person driving with a changed gender marker on their driver's license could be criminally charged with fraud" or have their license revoked or suspended, Caraballo said.

The other side: A department spokesperson did not immediately respond Tuesday to questions from Axios, including what the rule change means for trans Floridians who have already changed their licenses.

The big picture: This was the latest example of a state agency under the DeSantis Administration bypassing the lawmaking process to pass rules affecting trans people.

What they're saying: State Democrats blasted the change on Tuesday, with chair Nikki Fried saying: "Erasing and criminalizing trans people is absolutely disgusting and can't be allowed to stand."

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