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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

Florida cancels gender changes on new, replacement driver's licenses

Robert Kynoch speaks to Flordia Senate last year.
Screenshot
/
The Florida Channel
Robert Kynoch, deputy executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, has sent a memo to tax collectors canceling a driver's license policy that allowed transgender people to use their prefered gender. He's shown here speaking to a Florida Senate committee last year.

A Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles spokeswoman said the change regarding gender “pertains solely to replacement license requests.”

TALLAHASSEE — Amid what one critic called “an ongoing campaign to make Florida uninhabitable and unsafe for transgender individuals,” Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration quietly reversed a policy that allowed Floridians to obtain driver’s licenses that reflected their gender identity.

Robert Kynoch, deputy executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, on Friday sent a memo outlining the changes to county tax collectors, who process driver’s licenses and state identification cards. The memo said that allowing people to change their gender on licenses and ID cards runs afoul of state law because gender “has historically been understood as a synonym for ‘sex,’ which is determined by innate and immutable biological and genetic characteristics.”

In addition, a driver’s license “is an identification document and, as such, serves a critical role in assisting public and private entities in correctly establishing the identity of a person presenting the license,” Kynoch wrote.

“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,” he added.

The memo also warned that “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 state agency in 2018 adopted a policy allowing people to alter the genetic markers on licenses by using signed statements from physicians or court orders documenting gender changes. The policy, in part, required workers to treat people seeking such changes “respectfully.” In 2021, the process was expanded to allow advanced practice registered nurses to attest to the gender changes.

Kynoch’s memo noted the agency rescinded the policy, saying its provisions “are not supported by statutory authority.”

Pertaining 'solely to replacement' licenses

Simone Chriss, an attorney with Southern Legal Counsel who helped craft the 2018 policy, told The News Service of Florida that the changes adopted by the DeSantis administration don’t appear to affect trans people whose licenses already have been altered.

“This letter was just issued, and there’s a lot of ambiguity and a lot of questions that we will need answers on but, based on the statutes they’ve cited and the authority they’ve provided, there’s no reason for individuals who currently have a driver’s license or identification card that reflects their gender identity to be concerned about driving, going to appointments, using their ID in the traditional manner they do every day, because there’s no mechanism by which the DHSMV (Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles) or the police have any authority to suspend or revoke their license,” she said.

Department Director Dave Kerner began scrutinizing the agency’s “technical guidance/advisories” after his appointment to the post by DeSantis a year ago, agency spokeswoman Molly Best said in an email when asked about the new policy.

The change regarding gender “pertains solely to replacement license requests,” Best said.

“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,” Best said.

The agency’s reversal of the policy came as state lawmakers are considering measures that propose changing the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles' use of “gender” on licenses.

The House Select Committee on Health Innovation last week approved a bill (HB 1639) that would require licenses to reflect a person’s sex, based on “the person’s sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, and internal and external genitalia present at birth.” The bill would also impose requirements for insurers who cover gender-affirming care.

Targeting transgender people

Florida is among Republican-controlled states during the past few years that have taken a series of steps targeting transgender people and the broader LGBTQ community.

The DeSantis administration memo about driver’s licenses, which began circulating on social media Monday evening and was first reported by independent journalist Erin Reed, drew condemnation Tuesday from trans people and allies.

Taken together, the efforts amount to an attempt to legislate or regulate trans people out of existence, critics alleged.

These policies are intended to make the transgender community feel unsafe and unwelcome in Florida, and to push them out of public life entirely.
Former State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith

“Transgender people have always existed on every continent and in every culture in recorded human history. These policies are intended to make the transgender community feel unsafe and unwelcome in Florida, and to push them out of public life entirely. This reckless policy change helps absolutely no one, it seeks to deny legal existence to tens of thousands of Floridians and was implemented with zero public notice or input to ensure maximum disruption,” Carlos Guillermo Smith, a former state House member who is a senior policy analyst for LGBTQ-advocacy group Equality Florida, said in a text.

Smith, a Democrat who is running for a Central Florida Senate seat this year, called the change a “devastating development” and said his organization is “working with our national partners and legal groups to identify our options for fighting back.”

The driver’s license change “is part of an ongoing campaign to make Florida uninhabitable and unsafe for transgender individuals,” Chriss said.

Chriss is among the lawyers representing plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on the use of puberty blockers, hormone-replacement therapy or surgery to treat transgender minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The law also made it more difficult for trans adults to receive medical care in Florida. A federal judge heard arguments in the case in December but has not ruled.

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