Florida bars transgender residents from changing gender on driver’s licenses

Transgender Floridians will no longer be able to change their gender on state-issued driver’s licenses, according to a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles memo addressed to county tax collectors.

The department’s memo, sent Jan. 26 by Deputy Executive Director Robert Kynoch, states that gender markers on newly issued Florida driver’s licenses should reflect individuals’ sex assigned at birth.

The department’s previous policy, which since 2011 has allowed trans people to change the gender marker on their driver’s licenses with a letter from their doctor, is “not supported by statutory authority,” Kynoch wrote. The department is permitted to issue a replacement license only when a license or permit is lost or stolen, or when there is a change in the licensee’s name, address or restrictions, he wrote.

According to Kynoch, the term “gender” in this case does not refer to an individual’s gender identity, but rather their sex, which “is determined by innate and immutable biological and genetic characteristics,” he wrote.

“Additionally, 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.”

“Furthermore, misrepresenting one’s gender, understood as sex, on a driver license constitutes fraud,” Kynoch wrote in the memo, “and subjects an offender to criminal and civil penalties, including cancellation, suspension, or revocation of his or her driver license.”

State Democrats condemned the department’s policy change as an attack on transgender people.

“Florida Republicans’ obsession with trans people has to stop. Instead of addressing our raging property insurance crisis or out-of-control rent hikes, the GOP continues to pursue blatantly transphobic policies to serve their made-up culture wars,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said Tuesday in a statement.

Fried accused Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of “weaponizing” state agencies to push an anti-LGBTQ agenda. In 2022, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration under DeSantis adopted a rule prohibiting transgender residents from using Medicaid to help cover the cost of certain treatments for gender dysphoria.

A state employee in January 2023 alleged the agency sidestepped traditional regulatory channels to recommend that gender-affirming medical care be excluded from coverage under Medicaid. In June, a federal judge found the agency’s rule unconstitutional.

Nadine Smith, executive director of the statewide LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, said the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ policy change will throw the lives of trans people in Florida “into chaos.”

“The cruelty of this kind of government overreach and intrusion should alarm every Floridian,” Smith said Tuesday. “These reckless and hateful policies are intended to make the transgender community feel unsafe and unwelcome in Florida and to bully them out of public life entirely.”

Molly Best, the department’s communications director, told The Hill in an email on Tuesday that the change was made to strengthen the security, reliability and accuracy of government-issued credentials.

The department’s director, Dave Kerner, had asked senior leadership to ensure the department’s policies, procedures and advisories are consistent with Florida law, following his appointment last year by DeSantis, she said.

“Expanding the Department’s authority to issue replacement licenses dependent on one’s internal sense of gender or sex identification is violative of the law and does not serve to enhance the security and reliability of Florida issued licenses and identification cards,” Best said.

The department did not respond to additional questions from The Hill regarding how the policy change will impact individuals who have already changed the gender marker on their Florida driver’s licenses or whether visitors to the state will also be impacted.

A bill making its way through Florida’s GOP-dominated House would similarly require transgender people to list their sex assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity, on their driver’s licenses.

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