Hoosier ally? Pence's home state quietly begins issuing nonbinary IDs

Indiana, where Vice President Mike Pence was governor, is the latest state to offer transgender and nonbinary residents gender-neutral driver's licenses.
Image: A branch of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
A branch of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.WTHR
By Kate Sosin and Nico Lang

Indiana has become the latest state to offer residents gender-neutral driver’s licenses and other state-issued identification. In addition to the traditional “M” and “F” designation for male and female, transgender and nonbinary people can now apply for an “X” marker on their IDs.

The state started offering the new IDs earlier this month, according to Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles spokesperson Susie Guyer.

“The ‘X’ designation is in response to constituents requesting a nonbinary marker,” she said in a statement shared with NBC News. “Indiana has joined other states and industry groups, such as the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, that already recognize the designation.”

The change is the result of nearly two years of advocacy. Katherine Wood, an attorney with Indiana Legal Services, started exhausting administrative remedies to change the ID policy back in January 2017. After the organization threatened to sue, the BMV agreed to begin issuing the IDs this year.

At least two people have obtained the new IDs, according to the organization’s LGBTQ project director, Megan Stuart.

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“I am excited that Indiana has joined the growing number of states who recognize nonbinary gender identities by issuing nonbinary photo IDs,” she told NBC News. “In a state known for its anti-LGBTQ laws, policies, and politicians, the BMV chose to recognize people with nonbinary genders without a legal battle.”

Ash Kulak, a nonbinary public defender, is believed to be the second person to obtain one of the newly offered IDs. Kulak, who uses the pronouns “they” and “them,” worked alongside Wood to advocate for a nonbinary option for nearly two years.

Kulak said getting issued their updated driver’s license is a “relief.”

“Personally, I like knowing that I can hand over my ID and not have someone immediately know what a doctor thought about my sex assigned at birth, not have someone from an institution try to confirm their suspicions about what I could possibly be,” Kulak told NBC News.

Currently, six other states, along with Washington, D.C., allow trans and nonbinary people to apply for a gender marker other than “M” or “F” on their driver’s license or other state ID: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and Oregon. Gender-neutral birth certificates are permitted in California, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and New York City.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the March for Life dinner Friday in Washington.Cliff Owen / AP

The issuance of IDs recognizing the gender identities of trans and gender-nonconforming people, however, holds a particular significance in Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence’s home state. As governor, Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a since-amended law that garnered national attention for allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ people based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Indiana’s LGBTQ issues go deeper than the vice president, however. Last week, protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were stripped from a statewide hate crimes bill. The Hoosier State remains one of 20 states without hate crimes legislation on the basis of either sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“We don’t have any statewide protections when it comes to employment and housing,” said Julie Walsh, executive director of the trans support group GenderNexus. “People can still be fired or refused employment based on who they are. Anything that works to promote safety and increased access for people in our community needs to be addressed.”

Lane Banister, an LGBTQ cultural competency trainer in Indianapolis, claims the IDs will provide greater “visibility and acceptance” for identities that are “still a new concept to a lot of people.” Banister added that the new gender marker also “sends an important message.”

“We are citizens and residents of our state, just like anyone else, and we deserve the same rights and recognition,” Banister told NBC News. “This is how things happen in Indiana: When we have victories, they’re small and quiet. But when we suffer defeats, they’re loud and reverberate through the news.”

According to the Indiana BMV website, residents must have one of the following in order to change the gender on their driver’s license or state ID card: a completed Physician’s Statement of Gender Change form; a physician’s letter noting the individual “successfully underwent all treatment necessary to permanently change gender”; or an amended birth certificate (according to Stuart of Indiana Legal Services, the state quietly began issuing “U” gender markers on birth certificates for “unidentified” in early 2018, but NBC News was not able to independently confirm this at the time of publication).

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