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Florida criminalizes changing gender on driver’s licenses in latest attack on LGBTQ+ rights

Florida Drivers License Person Filing Gender Change Paperwork
Florida Dept. of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles; Shutterstock

A letter from the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles cites the state's statute prohibiting fake IDs, which makes use of a fictitious ID a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years of prison or probation and a $5,000 fine, to bar the changes.

Florida officials last week told driver’s license offices to stop allowing residents to change their gender designation on state IDs.

A letter sent out by the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, part of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration, said it was rescinding a rule allowing individuals to alter their driver’s licenses when they transition.

“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,’ which is determined by innate and immutable biological and genetic characteristics,” wrote FHSMV Deputy Executive Director Robert Kynoch. The letter went out to county tax collector’s offices around the state.

The letter threatens legal consequences for individuals who seek a change in their gender on driver’s licenses moving forward.

“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 letter cites Florida’s statute prohibiting fake IDs, which makes use of a fictitious ID a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years of prison or probation and a $5,000 fine.

Of note, the state agency just changed guidelines in its manual May 2022 to allow a change without proof of gender affirmation surgery, and those guidelines remain on the state website four days after the letter was sent. “Previously, the Florida Division of Motorist Services required proof that sexual reassignment surgery had been completed,” a note on the website reads. “This is no longer the policy and proof of such may not be requested or required.”

But the letter says the state will reverse that move yet again, and now won’t allow gender changes at all. The language in Kynoch’s letter suggests even those who undergo gender affirmation surgery won’t be allowed to change the designation on their IDs.

“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 letter reads.

Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida, issued the following statement:

“The DeSantis administration’s obsession with scapegoating transgender Floridians has escalated into an outrageous attack that further erodes freedom and liberty in our state. This cruel policy threatens transgender Floridians with civil and criminal penalties and blocks them from obtaining the critical government-issued identification necessary to continue their daily lives," Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said in a statement. "Transgender people have always existed in every culture on every continent and always will. In Florida, tens of thousands of people have legally updated their gender marker on their driver’s license or ID. 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 cruelty of this kind of government overreach and intrusion should alarm every Floridian."

She added: "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 guidance comes as the Florida Legislature considers a bill that would eliminate recognition of transgender identities in the state. Florida state Rep. Dean Black’s “What Is A Woman?” Act would eliminate the term gender from government documents, including driver's licenses, and require instead for the sex assigned at birth to be listed under sex.

That legislation has yet to be heard by committee, and no Senate companion legislation has been filed.

But as has occurred in the past with bills like the “don’t say gay” law’s expansion through high school, the DeSantis administration isn’t waiting to implement measures through executive authority, and seems ready to go beyond what a Legislature with Republican supermajorities will consider when it comes to transgender erasure.

“Florida Republicans’ obsession with trans people has to stop,” said Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried. “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. Erasing and criminalizing trans people is absolutely disgusting and can’t be allowed to stand."

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