Orlando transgender rights advocates stage DMV “die-in”
About a dozen people staged a “die-in” in Orlando Friday, joining activists in five other Florida cities who laid down at DMV offices, pretending to be dead, in a coordinated protest against the state’s recent move to block gender changes on driver’s licenses.
The demonstrations were organized by PRISM, a nonprofit formed by South Florida high schoolers in 2019 to expand affirming spaces and resources for LGBTQ+ youth.
PRISM’s founder and executive director Maxx Fenning says unlike other kinds of protests, which are often loud, a “die-in” tends to be intentionally somber and quiet.
“The silence is sometimes the point,” Fenning said. “It’s meant to be a very visually impactful way to demonstrate the loss of life that comes from these decisions, and [to] bring attention to the harm and danger.”
Friday’s statewide demonstrations were in response to a memo issued late last month by Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), blocking Floridians from changing their gender marker on a driver’s license.
The memo rescinds earlier guidance that previously directed agency staff to allow gender changes on Florida driver’s licenses. Now, Florida and Kansas are the only two U.S. states prohibiting such updates, according to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), a progressive nonprofit.
“It feels horrible to know that there are people now in Florida who will not be able to achieve that milestone for their transition,” said Jude Speegle, 29, of Volusia County. “Imagine what that does to your mental health, for people to never know truly who you are.”
Speegle said he changed his legal name and gender marker last year to correspond with his gender identity, describing it as a highly personal decision.
“It's not for anybody else. It was for me,” Speegle said. “It wasn't for the state, it wasn't for the government, it wasn't to make a point. It was for myself.”
But in a written statement to WMFE News, FLHSMV Director of Communications Molly Best said the agency requires satisfactory proof of identity, including biological sex, to obtain a driver license.
“In Florida, you do not get to play identity politics with your driver license,” Best said. “No changes have been made to the process of establishing gender on a newly issued Florida credential, governed by s. 322.08, F.S.”
But according to the Jan. 26 memo from FLHSMV Deputy Executive Director Robert Kynoch: “misrepresenting one’s gender, understood as sex, on a driver license constitutes fraud,” and can lead to criminal and civil penalties.
When asked what the change means for Floridians who have already changed the gender marker on their driver’s license, per the previous guidance, Best did not respond to WMFE directly, only saying the previous guidance is not supported by statutory authority.
Right now, Florida lawmakers are considering a House proposal (HB 1639) that would enshrine the recent agency memo in state law: by requiring 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.”
For Mulan Williams, a transgender woman participating in Orlando’s die-out on Friday, FLHSMV’s recent memo is the latest in a string of attacks on LGBTQ+ people in Florida.
Williams said several years ago she started an organization, Divas in Dialogue, to try and help younger generations avoid struggling as much as she did during her own transition.
“The trans community, the gay community, we've come so far. But lately, it's been such a multitude of attacks against us,” Williams said. “It’s not fair, we're not standing for it, and we're not gonna let it happen. We're just not.”