News Law and Policy

Indiana Republicans Are Already Trying to Undermine State’s New Nonbinary ID Option (Updated)

Kate Sosin & Nico Lang

Next week, lawmakers in the Indiana House will vote on an amendment that opponents say places a heavy burden on individuals who wish to apply for the new gender markers on their licenses or state IDs.

UPDATE, March 28, 1:30 p.m.: The Chicago Tribune reported that the Indiana House removed the bill from its calendar on Tuesday, shelving the vote.

Just days after Indiana announced it would be rolling out a nonbinary third gender option on state IDs and driver’s licenses for trans, intersex, and gender-nonconforming people, the legislature is already trying to undermine the policy.

On March 12, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) announced it would be updating its policies to allow individuals to apply for an “X” on their licenses, instead of the standard “M” and “F” designations. The BMV said in a statement it began issuing the new identification earlier this month.

Next week, lawmakers in the Indiana House will vote on an amendment that opponents say places a heavy burden on individuals who wish to apply for the new gender markers on their licenses or state IDs. Authored by state Rep. Holli Sullivan (R-Evansville), the proposal requires residents to present birth certificates with a corrected gender marker in order to receive new identification.

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SB 182 passed out of the House Committee on Roads and Transportation on Wednesday morning by a 10-3 vote. The bill now heads for a full vote in the Indiana House, where Republicans double the number of Democrats. In the state senate, the GOP holds a staggering 40-10 majority.

Katie Blair, who serves as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana’s director of advocacy and public policy, says Sullivan’s measure is a “spiteful reaction” to the BMV’s plan to recognize identities that fall outside the gender binary.

“Accurate identification is necessary in many areas of everyday life, and yet, elected officials want to force gender nonbinary people to carry identification that does not accurately identify them,” Blair said in a written statement. “This is not only humiliating, but can also invite discrimination and, in some cases, violence.”

For the past ten years, the BMV has allowed transgender people to update their IDs with a doctor’s note. While Indiana allows transgender people to correct their birth certificates and it is possible to receive one with an “X” listed on it, doing so entails an expensive and time-consuming legal process. It often requires hiring a lawyer, having a therapist sign off on the gender change, getting a note from a doctor, and appearing in court before a judge. The judge may choose to refuse the request.

The entire process can cost thousands of dollars and take up to a year. Many individuals never complete it. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, only 11 percent of the estimated 27,600 trans Hoosiers have all of their IDs updated with their correct name and gender, and 75 percent said they didn’t have a single ID that reflected their gender.

Ash Kulak, a nonbinary public defender, claims the amendment will also prevent many nonbinary residents who hail from other states from getting new IDs because most states don’t offer “X” gender markers on their birth certificates yet.

“I feel like [lawmakers] are doing their best to try to limit trans people’s rights, and if they can do it as silently and as insidiously as possible they will go for it,” said Kulak, who is one of two people in the state to obtain a nonbinary ID. “I don’t have much faith in the legislature.”

Sullivan did not respond to a request for comment on the amendment’s intent prior to press time. But even if lawmakers kill her proposal during next week’s vote, it’s likely to be replaced by another one. Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly will have until the legislative session adjourns on April 29 to pass a bill undermining the BMV’s ID recently updated policies.

SB 182 is the second proposal put forward by Republicans to undercut Indiana’s nonbinary ID markers within 24 hours. An amendment to an earlier bill would have halted enforcement of the new BMV policy by defining gender as exclusively “male” or “female” on all forms of ID. The ACLU of Indiana claimed the prior amendment was dropped during Tuesday vote following a flurry of calls to conservative lawmakers.

Indiana is one of eight states that offer an option other than “M” and “F” on driver’s licenses and other state identification. Others include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Oregon, Maine, and Minnesota. Utah has quietly issued two nonbinary IDs since September 2018, but they have been difficult to obtain without a clear statewide policy on the new gender markers. Last week, Vermont announced plans to begin offering a third gender option sometime this summer but has not specified a date.

Indiana’s decision to join the growing list of states offering nonbinary IDs was the result of advocacy efforts by local organization Indiana Legal Services. The nonprofit group worked alongside Kulak for two years to obtain identification that matches their gender identity.

Megan Stuart, the LGBT project director for Indiana Legal Services, says access to documents that correspond with one’s lived reality is critical for the organization’s clients.

“Accurate and affirming identification is an integral part of making life safer and easier for trans and nonbinary Hoosiers,” Stuart said. “Because identification that reflects one’s identity makes it easier to work, travel, and access government institutions, we worked with the BMV to get them to issue nonbinary IDs.”

Blair calls SB 182 a “major letdown;” others say the attempt to roll back third gender options particularly hurts after LGBTQ protections were stripped from a statewide hate crimes bill last month.

“Having the nonbinary IDs taken away is worse than never having them in the first place,” claims Chris Paulsen, CEO of Indiana Youth Group. “It wasn’t something that people were pushing for or really expecting. So when it came, it was a nice surprise. With the legislature trying to take it away, now it feels like an attack—because it is an attack.”

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