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Florida Democrats urge DHS to rule against state law barring gender changes on licenses

Florida Democrats are pushing back against a new state policy barring transgender residents from changing the gender on their driver’s licenses, decrying the abrupt change as an attack on that community and calling for the federal government to step in.

Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles informed county tax collectors, which issue driver’s licenses in the state, in a Jan. 26 memo that gender markers on newly issued Florida driver’s licenses should reflect individuals’ sex assigned at birth as opposed to their gender identity.

“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,” Deputy Executive Director Robert Kynoch wrote in the memo.

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

The policy, which replaces a 2011 mandate that trans people in Florida may change the gender marker on their driver’s license with a letter from their doctor, does not specify whether transgender Floridians who have already amended their licenses could face fraud charges.

In a letter sent Friday to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Florida Democrats, led by Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), requested the department draft a rule under the Real ID Act that would void the state’s policy.

“Forcing Floridians to carry driver licenses that may not correspond to their gender is in direct conflict with the stated purpose of the REAL ID Act: ‘to make our identity documents more consistent and secure,’” states the letter, signed by all eight Florida Democrats in the House.

The DHS rule should “include, but not be limited to, requiring one’s gender/sex identifier on compliant state identification to match the gender on one’s Federal identification documents,” the Democrats wrote in the letter. “If there are any other avenues through which this discrimination can be combatted, we encourage the Department to pursue those as well.”

Individuals under current federal policy may self-select the gender marker on their U.S. passport, including an unspecified gender identity denoted by an “X.” The gender selected does not need to match the gender on supporting documents, like a birth certificate or state ID, according to the State Department.

The department in 2021 rolled back a policy requiring transgender people to submit medical documentation to change the gender marker on their U.S. passport.

If the policy change instituted by Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is allowed to stand — and similar restrictions are adopted by other states — “they will undoubtedly continue to spread, creating more confusion and inconsistency while severely hampering Americans’ ability to travel, including LGBTQ+ Americans’ ability to leave states that are hostile to their existence,” Democrats wrote in Friday’s letter to Mayorkas.

“This is nothing short of a hateful attack on the trans community with the goal of trans erasure,” Frost added in a Friday post on X, formerly Twitter.

Molly Best, the department’s communications director, told The Hill on Friday that the new policy “should not be confusing to anyone.”

“You are either a man or a woman, and your driver license must list your accurate biological sex,” she said.

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

The bill, H.B. 1639, would specifically strike the word “gender” from the list of required displayed identifiers on a Florida driver’s license and replace it with “sex,” defined as either male or female based on a person’s “sex chromosomes, sex hormones, and internal and external genitalia present at birth.”

LGBTQ advocates worry the legislation could invalidate the driver’s licenses of trans and gender-nonconforming people in the state.

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