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Florida bars transgender people from changing the sex on their driver's licenses

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat, said the move is another example of a state agency being weaponized to “attack trans people.”
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Florida will no longer allow transgender people to change the sex on their state driver’s license to reflect their gender identity, a policy change that muddles whether trans people who have already updated their documents could face fraud charges for “misrepresenting” their identities.

Robert Kynoch, deputy executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, wrote in a memo to the department’s executive director on Friday that the department would rescind a provision on “gender requirements” in the Driver License Operations Manual that allowed Floridians to change the gender marker on their licenses. 

The department doesn’t have the statutory authority to enforce provisions that allow someone to update the gender marker on their license, according to Kynoch. Florida licenses can now only be replaced when they are lost or stolen, or when a licensee changes their name, address or restrictions.

A driver license service center in Miami, Fla.
A driver license service center in Miami, Fla.Jeff Greenberg / Universal Images Group via Getty file

Kynoch added that the term “gender” in the provision on gender requirements “does not refer to a person’s internal sense of his or her gender role or identification, but has historically and commonly been understood as a synonym for ‘sex,’ which is determined by innate and immutable biological and genetic characteristics.” 

“A driver license is an identification document and, as such, serves a critical role in assisting public and private entities in correctly establishing the identity of a person presenting the license,” Kynoch wrote. “Permitting an individual to alter his or her license to reflect an internal sense of gender role or identity, which is neither immutable nor objectively verifiable, undermines the purpose of an identification record and can frustrate the state’s ability to enforce its laws.”

The provision that governs how the department establishes gender for a newly issued license won’t change, according to the memo and Molly Best, the department’s director of communications. Someone can establish their gender for a new Florida license using supporting documents such as a driver’s license from another state, a U.S. passport or a U.S. birth certificate, among other documents. 

Kynoch’s memo was first shared on the social media platform X by Florida state Rep. Anna Eskamani,  a Democrat. Best confirmed its authenticity in an email to NBC News and shared a copy of the technical advisory confirming the policy change.

Eskamani described the change as “another gross example of how every state agency has been” weaponized to “attack trans people.” 

“Instead of addressing the property insurance crisis, this is what our state is doing. Shameful,” Eskamani added. 

It’s unclear how the advisory will conflict with current Florida law and federal law. For example, the state allows trans people to change the sex on their birth certificate if they submit an application to amend it, fill out an affidavit attesting to the amended birth certificate and receive a letter from a physician stating that they have received appropriate medical care for their gender transition.

Under the department’s new policy, trans Floridians who already have driver’s licenses would be unable to receive a replacement license with their gender identity rather than their birth sex even if they changed the sex on their Florida birth certificates. 

It’s also unclear whether someone would be able to receive a replacement Florida license with an updated gender marker if they’ve already updated their U.S. passport to reflect their gender identity rather than their assigned sex at birth.

Best did not return a request for comment regarding how the department would navigate these situations. 

Misrepresenting one’s gender, “understood as sex,” according to Kynoch’s memo, on a driver’s license constitutes fraud, which could carry criminal and civil penalties, including the cancellation, suspension or revocation of a driver’s license. The policy doesn’t specify whether a trans Floridian who already changed the sex on their driver’s license would be committing fraud by continuing to use the license.

“In Florida, tens of thousands of people have legally updated their gender marker on their driver’s license or ID,” Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a state LGBTQ advocacy group, said in a statement. “They carefully followed the rules to ensure their identification accurately reflects who they are, and they trusted this process. Now, an abrupt policy reversal has thrown their lives into chaos.”

The policy shift is part of a larger statewide and yearslong effort by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration and the Legislature to roll back LGBTQ rights and the discussion of topics related to LGBTQ identities and race in schools. 

Last year, Florida expanded its Parental Rights in Education act, or what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The measure, signed by DeSantis in May, prohibits classroom instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through eighth grade “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate,” restricts health education in sixth through 12th grade and restricts what pronouns teachers and students can use. 

So far this year, the Florida Legislature is considering 11 bills targeting LGBTQ people, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, including one that would require Floridians to sign an affidavit certifying that their driver’s license or other state ID reflects the sex on their original birth certificate. Transgender Floridians would be required to turn in any existing ID that shows their gender identity and would not be able to receive such identification going forward.

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