It started with transgender athletes, then gender-affirming care – now Florida’s war on the trans community is moving to driver’s licenses.
On Jan. 26, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles published a memo that rescinds a policy allowing transgender Floridians to update the gender marker on their driver's licenses or IDs.
Activists believe this is just another attempt to erase the transgender community from public life.
“Instead of fixing real problems faced by Floridians, like soaring homeowners’ insurance prices and failing public schools, they are focused on legislating away our freedoms and rights to bodily autonomy,” said Morgan Mayfaire, founder of TransSOCIAL. “Wake up, Florida! Don’t give in to panic and find a way to get involved in resisting these attacks. This new directive is just another attempt by [Gov. Ron] DeSantis to erase trans people from public life.”
The memo was first reported by Erin in the Morning – a blog covering the trans community.
The memo attempts to frame this as a security issue.
“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 memo reads.
Nadine Smith of Equality Florida also slammed DeSantis in a statement Jan. 30.
“The DeSantis administration’s obsession with scapegoating transgender Floridians has escalated into an outrageous attack that further erodes freedom and liberty in our state,” Smith wrote. “The cruelty of this kind of government overreach and intrusion should alarm every Floridian. 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.”
There appears to be some confusion around the new policy in regards to how it will affect the trans community. Initial statements from activists suggested it would apply to any trans person with a license.
But in a statement to OutSFL, the FDHSMV suggested otherwise, saying it only applies to those people seeking to update their gender on their license.
“The Department has rescinded IR-08 Gender Requirements, and the rescission pertains solely to replacement license requests,” Molly Best, Director of Communications, told OutSFL. “No changes have been made to the process of establishing gender on a newly issued Florida credential, governed by s. 322.08, F.S.”
That point may soon be moot anyway if a bill that has been introduced becomes law, which would prohibit transgender people from obtaining a new license.
Erin Reed sums it up as such: “In one of the most extreme bills of the last decade targeting transgender individuals, a new bill [...] seeks to end all legal recognition of transgender people and mandates mass biological sex affidavits for both transgender and cisgender Floridians. These affidavits would be necessary at the DMV for license renewals, enabling the state to gather records of the biological sex of all individuals in Florida who apply for driver's licenses.”
Reed adds: “Additionally, the bill would impact every law in Florida that references sex, effectively removing all legal recognition of transgender people in the state.”
As if it couldn’t get worse, the FDHSMV memo makes it clear “misrepresenting” one’s gender on a driver’s license constitutes fraud.
“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 reads.
Brendon Lies, a 32-year-old trans man, is thankful he left the state in 2020.
“I've built my life on this gender marker. My career, my social life, my sense of security,” he said. “The thought that it could be considered fraud, or even taken away so many years later, seems impossible. But here we are.”
Ximena Dipietro, a student activist at Florida Atlantic University who is trans, added: “The new policy is a dangerous overreach by the state government that needlessly targets and harms transgender people. I’m constantly worried about what’s the next step in the Florida government’s systemic attack on queer and trans Floridians, and this new policy only confirms this worry.”
Dipietro has a right to be concerned. According to Translegislation.com, there are at least nine anti-trans bills that have been introduced in Florida so far this legislative session. There have been 402 bills across 37 states that have been introduced.
“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,” Smith wrote. “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.”
Another such bill would allow people who have been labeled as transphobic to sue for defamation. If found liable, the defendant could be fined at least $35,000.
“There are a number of constitutional issues with this type of law, some of which are rooted in the fact that it appears to be content-based and treats expression differently based on the viewpoint being expressed,” said Russell Cormican, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale. “The First Amendment does not generally permit content-based limits on speech. Hopefully, the 2024 version of this bill meets the same fate as its predecessor and is voted down. But it's Florida, after all, so don’t hold your breath.”
Rep. Anna V. Eskamani (D-Orlando) also slammed the executive branch in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
“This is another gross example of how every state agency has been weaponized to attack trans people,” she wrote. “Instead of addressing the property insurance crisis, this is what our state is doing. Shameful.”