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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Florida ban barring residents from changing license gender marker gives ‘added injury to insult’ for Gainesville residents

Local transgender residents, officials concerned about effects of ban, similar legislation

The DMV office at Butler Plaza on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024.
The DMV office at Butler Plaza on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024.

Morgan Averette had the gender marker on her driver’s license changed almost three years ago. Now, with a new Florida ban in place, the 32-year-old Gainesville resident is worried for other transgender locals who might not have the same opportunity.

As of Jan. 26, Florida residents are no longer able to change the gender marker on their state-issued driver’s licenses.

“I think the biggest consequence is that, for folks who haven’t changed their state identification, it will be a lot harder to [do] so,” Averette said. “I feel for them because I know how [much] easier my life is with having my legal name changed and the appropriate gender markers on government, personal and business documents and identification.”

The process was both time-consuming and costly for Averette even before the ban. 

“The process of changing my name legally and, subsequently, my gender marker was a long and expensive process, which is a barrier for a lot of people,” she said. “This ban feels like added injury to insult.”

Robert Kynoch, the deputy executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, sent out a memo to county tax collectors announcing the ban. It revokes IR-08 Gender Requirements, a section of the state’s driver’s license issuance requirements that previously allowed drivers to be issued a “new license in the event that a licensee wished to alter the gender marker on his or her license,” according to the memo. 

The change comes as a part of the department’s review of its practices and policies. According to the memo, IR-08 Gender Requirements is “not supported by statutory 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,” wrote department spokesperson Molly Best in an email.

To Gray Williams, the new ban barring residents from changing their gender on their license is another reason to leave Florida.

The 24-year-old Gainesville resident identifies as nonbinary and first learned about the ban Feb. 1 through a “queer news feed” on Instagram. The ban “stuck out” to them because they were visiting Chicago with their partner at the time, they said. 

“We want to move there because of how fearful we are of worsening policies for queer people in Florida,” they said. “Seeing that post kind [of] sealed the deal for me.”

While not directly related to the memo, House Bill 1639, “Gender and Biological Sex,” aims to accomplish similar goals. The bill defines “sex,” requires that all state licenses and identification indicate a person’s sex — rather than their gender — and provides requirements for health insurance regarding gender-affirming care.

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Florida Rep. Dean Black, R-15, is one of two representatives to sponsor the bill. The bill is also sponsored by two subcommittees Black isn’t part of. They call HB 1639 the “Clarity and Compassion Act,” Black said.

“It provides clarity because, as it pertains to Florida driver’s licenses, it clarifies what has been the practice from time immemorial but [was] only made subjective in the past few years,” he said. “It clarifies that the sex on your driver’s license means your biological sex.”

The bill focuses on a person’s biological sex and is meant to ensure that a person’s identification is authentic, Black said.

“As for the driver’s license identification, that’s about biology. It’s not about ideology,” he said. “It is a method of identification. It needs to contain immutable truth.”

While the memo is not directly related to the bill, HB 1639 will work to solidify the ideas of the memo into law, Black said.

“We’re going to make sure that the law reflects what we actually intend by putting it in statute,” he said.

For Samara Powers, a 52-year-old Gainesville resident, the ban and HB 1639 emphasize a false connection between a person’s gender identity and sex.

“All of this is based on the mistaken belief that sex traits and gender identity are the same and that only male [or] female presentation, as the popular culture understands it, is ‘normal,’” they said.

While Powers identifies as nonbinary, they “carry a lot of safety privilege” because they pass as cisgender, they said. Still, they hold themselves to be an activist and urge people to not be complacent even if the ban and similar legislation do not directly affect them, Powers said.

“[There is] a silent majority of people who are still enjoying safety and security and don’t really think this issue is about them or that it doesn’t concern them,” Powers said. “From my perspective, it’s like not being worried about the climate crisis because your house is 1,000 feet from the shoreline, instead of just ten feet.”

Gainesville City Commissioner Casey Willits worries the ban will send people away from the city.

“I hope that no transgender people in Gainesville feel like they aren’t welcome in Gainesville,” he said. “I am afraid that some people won’t feel comfortable living in Gainesville or living in the state of Florida, and they’ll look elsewhere. It’s not fair to make someone feel so uncomfortable that they feel like they need to move.”

One of Willits’ biggest concerns about the ban is how interactions between law enforcement and transgender residents will change. It may create “dangerous situations” if someone does not seem to physically match the gender marker that appears on their license or decides to drive without a license, he said.

“I’m afraid that the confusion will cause officers to do everything that’s within their discretion, and I think that could be interrupting and getting into the lives of people where state law doesn’t demand that we get into their lives,” he said. “That’s unnecessary, that doesn’t enhance our safety in the city and does not contribute to a good quality standard of life in the city of Gainesville.”

Willits vowed to clarify this issue with local law enforcement to avoid situations like this, he said. If it’s still not clear after private conversations with the city manager, Willits said he’ll discuss it with the larger city commission.

“If I feel like we’re not prepared for this potential change, I will bring it to the entire commission to have a conversation and potentially vote on something to direct the city manager to direct our police forces,” Willits said.

As an openly LGBTQ+ local elected official, Willits said he’s felt acceptance in Gainesville. He strives to continue to maintain this feeling for other residents despite the ban and similar legislation, he said.

“You’re welcome in the city of Gainesville,” he said. “I will work to make sure you feel welcome, and I will urge the city commission to go along on that journey to make as welcoming of a place as possible.”

Willits encouraged local elected officials to oppose this legislation.

“I urge the Alachua County legislative delegation to stand against these bills,” he said. “We need them to search their conscience and decide whether they want to be a part of this, in essence, legislative lynch mob that is demonizing trans people and other LGBTQ+ people.”

Contact Bailey Diem at bdiem@alligator.org. Follow her on X @BaileyDiem.

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Bailey Diem

Bailey Diem is a first-year journalism major and a metro general assignment reporter for The Alligator. When not reporting, Bailey can be found playing guitar or getting lost in a book.


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