Feb 21, 2024 - News

Florida ban on changing ID gender marker sparks fear among trans people

Several people lie on the ground of a government office holding signs shaped like tombstones. "RIP Attacked by Florida Legislature and DHSMV," one says. "Remember me," another says, held by a person who is covered by a blue, pink and white transgender flag. Onlookers stare and take photos.

Protesters stage a "die-in" demonstration this month at a Hillsborough County Tax Collector's office. Photo: Kathryn Varn/Axios

Hansel Naranjo is used to the fight. He escaped Cuba, where fellow LGBTQ+ people were jailed or expelled from school just for being who they are.

  • He navigated a new country and a new language, eventually coming to own an air-conditioning business and a restaurant.
  • And at 42, after saving up enough money, he started his transition to finally live as the gender he'd known himself to be since childhood.

So when Naranjo, now 64, saw the protesters while he was running an errand at a Hillsborough County Tax Collector's office, he only wished he could join them.

What's happening: The Tampa protest this month was one of six "die-in" demonstrations across the state challenging a new state rule barring transgender people from changing the gender markers on their driver's licenses.

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 that thrust trans people and gender identity into the spotlight.

The big picture: That onslaught has included 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, a protest organizer and executive director of the youth-led LGBTQ+ rights group PRISM, told Axios.

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 told Axios.

  • The 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 said.
  • Those who face threats or harassment as a result of the policy should report their concerns to law enforcement, she said.

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 told Axios.)
  • Those who hadn't yet, saw their window of opportunity suddenly close.

Zoom in: "I have a target on my back," said Jack Micciche, a former Army medic from Bradenton who'd been planning to update his gender marker before the rule.

  • Micciche, 34, and his partner, India Miller, joined the Tampa protesters who laid down at the tax collector's office holding tombstone-shaped signs.
  • "The Nazis kept track of us too," Miller's poster said.

Nearby, Naranjo watched as he waited in line to get a title for his truck, angry at the situation but grateful they were continuing the fight.

  • He thanked organizers for their work, then he returned to his place in line, taking solace in what his own life had proven true.
  • "We've survived," he said, "and we will survive."
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