Floridians can no longer elect to update or change their gender on Florida driver’s licenses, according to a memo sent to state officials by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and obtained by CNN.
In the Friday memo, Robert Kynoch, deputy executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said previous policies that allowed residents to elect to change their gender “are not supported by statutory authority.”
According to the memo, existing statutes dictate that Florida’s Department of Motor Vehicles can only issue a replacement license when a license or permit is “lost, stolen, or when there is a subsequent change in the licensee’s name, address or restrictions.”
“Furthermore, misrepresenting one’s gender, understood as sex, on a driver license constitutes fraud … and subjects an offender to criminal and civil penalties, including cancellation, suspension, or revocation of his or her driver license,” the memo states.
Critics and LGBTQ civil rights say the new license policy is just the latest example of targeted attacks against transgender residents in the state, which has seen new restrictions in recent years on access to gender-affirming treatments and bathrooms.
Previous policies mirrored the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s recommendations and allowed a transgender person to take a certified doctor’s note to the DMV and update their license.
However, a 2023 state statute does not list a doctor’s note as an approved document for a driver’s license application and only mentions gender once without providing a definition.
In the memo, Kynoch wrote that a driver’s license is an identification document that assists public and private entities in establishing the identity of the person presenting the license.
“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,” Kynoch wrote.
The document also says, “the term ‘gender’… 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.’” The memo also defines one’s sex as being determined by “innate and immutable biological and genetic characteristics.”
Brandon Wolf, senior director of political communications and national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, said the new policy comes amid wider attacks on the legal recognition of transgender people that is happening in states across the country.
“They are not all using the same policy levers, but they are aimed at removing transgender people from public society,” Wolf said in an email to CNN.
He also pushed back on the memo’s limited definitions of sex and gender.
“Sex has consistently been understood to mean more than a person’s reproductive organs and, even when looking at reproductive organs, sex is more complicated than a doctor’s quick assessment at birth.”
Molly Best, a spokesperson for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said Dave Kerner, the department’s executive director, was tasked with ensuring policies and advisories conformed with the law and the department’s authority.
“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. The security, reliability, and accuracy of government issued credentials is paramount,” she said.
Nathan Bruemmer, a transgender attorney and president of the LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus in Florida, said the new policy will affect “every aspect” of daily life for transgender people in Florida.
“Florida is rescinding a process without notice after years and they are adding insult to injury by adding a civil and criminal penalty,” Bruemmer said in a statement to CNN.
“Presenting inaccurate identification all too often becomes a trigger for various forms of abuse and discrimination. There is no question that this decision will fuel the anti-trans hostility that is already on the rise in Florida.”
In a statement, Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, called the policy “cruel” and said the change should “alarm every Floridian.”
“The DeSantis administration’s obsession with scapegoating transgender Floridians has escalated into an outrageous attack that further erodes freedom and liberty in our states,” Smith said. “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.”
The license policy change corresponds to a new bill making its way through the Florida legislature, HB 1639, which seeks to legally define the difference between the words “gender” and “sex” in the state. The bill would also require driver’s licenses to reflect a person’s sex at birth.
Adrianna Tender, who is a member of the Board of Governors for the Human Rights Campaign, told CNN the organization is concerned about the wider impact the new policy will have on the mental health and wellbeing of transgender people in Florida.
“The ability to change gender markers on official documents has been a crucial step towards inclusivity and understanding for transgender individuals,” Tender said.
“The recognition of one’s gender through a simple change on a driver’s license serves as a powerful affirmation and can significantly reduce the negative emotional responses to gender-based mistreatment.”
This headline has been updated.
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