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It’s About ‘Giving Dignity’: More States Roll Out Nonbinary IDs

Tris Mamone

Legislators in states like Maryland, Hawaii, and New Hampshire have joined the movement to provide "X" gender markers for nonbinary people on state-issued IDs.

On the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) quietly announced the state will offer “X” gender marker options for state IDs and driver’s licenses starting in October.

In a list of bills that will become law without Hogan’s signature was SB 196, passed in March by the Democratic-dominated state senate and house. Maryland is the 11th state to allow individuals to apply for the nonbinary gender option, instead of the “F” and “M” designations. “This law will make our lives safer and fulfill the promise of non-discrimination made by the Freedom for All Marylanders Act in 2014,” CP Hoffman, of the Intersex & Genderqueer Recognition Project, said in a statement.

Gender-neutral ID options have been presented to the Maryland house in the past. A similar bill was introduced last year but did not pass through the state senate. It didn’t help that the Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland was reluctant to comply thanks to an internal memoranda from the 1990s. “They basically had adopted a policy that they weren’t going to issue any licenses with ‘X’ gender markers,” Hoffman told Rewire.News, “and also requiring two letters from separate medical professionals in order to change your gender to a binary gender. And both of these were policies they developed on their own that weren’t required by legislation.”

It wasn’t until state Sen. Will Smith (D-Montgomery County), vice chair of the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, and Del. Sara Love (D-Montgomery County), of the Environment and Transportation Committee, got involved that Maryland lawmakers took notice. Despite pushback from Republicans—Minority Leader J.B. Jennings infamously asked during the floor debate, “Are we going to call them X men?”—the house passed the legislation.

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“There were some worries that Governor Hogan might decide to veto it,” Hoffman said, “especially if he were tempted to run for president and wanted to sort of emphasize his conservative leanings. But it ended up having both the house and senate with a veto-proof majority, so regardless, I think he just decided it wasn’t worth vetoing because all it would mean is that the house and senate overrode his veto later.”

The first gender-neutral state ID was issued to James Shupe of Oregon in 2016. While Shupe now identifies as a man and writes for anti-trans conservative publications, his case started a movement of states legally recognizing nonbinary people. Efforts to create the “X” gender marker hasn’t come without some pushback. In Indiana, where the state in March introduced the option, state lawmakers considered a bill that would make it more difficult for people to obtain the nonbinary ID. The legislation didn’t receive a vote. 

Lawmakers in several other states hope to join the movement, including New Hampshire, where HB 699 passed both the house and state senate this year and is awaiting Gov. Chris Sununu’s (R) signature. “Lawmakers and members of the public have been supportive of the legislation throughout this session,” GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) staff attorney Chris Erchull told Rewire.News. “New Hampshire legislators understand the importance of equality and dignity for the LGBTQ community.”

Erchull said the “X” marker legislation was introduced to New Hampshire lawmakers not long after the state senate passed a bill protecting trans people from discrimination. “After HB 1319 was signed into law, the Freedom New Hampshire coalition [which fought for the bill’s passing] was winding down, and Freedom for All Americans, a coalition member, spearheaded a survey in an effort to learn what other issues were priorities for the LGBTQ community in New Hampshire.”

The most common response, Erchull said, was nonbinary gender markers on state IDs and birth records.

One major supporter of HB 699 was state Rep. Gerri Cannon (D-District 18), one of New Hampshire’s first two transgender state legislators. HB 699, if passed, will give nonbinary New Hampshire residents the opportunity to easily change the gender markers on both state IDs and birth records. Cannon has enthusiastically supported the bill.

Hawaii is another state that might soon offer gender-neutral IDs for nonbinary people. Hawaii’s HB 1165 is awaiting Gov. David Ige’s (D) signature after the legislation passed the state’s Democratic-majority legislature. “Because of the overwhelming support that we have received, I am optimistic that the governor will sign the bill into law,” Ian Tapu, president of the Lambda Law Student Association at the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law, told Rewire.News. 

Tapu helped push for the bill in part by explaining to Hawaiian legislators how third genders have always been part of Polynesian culture, particularly the mahu of Hawaii, the leiti of Tonga, and the fa’afafine of Samoa. “Gender-neutral options for state IDs, especially for indigenous peoples, is a small but important step in the decolonization of gender and the validation of our culture and identities,” Tapu told Rewire.News. “Having a third option is about giving dignity to those who often do not see themselves reflected in the world and hopefully provides the momentum for movement in other aspects of society.”

“Every person deserves to have documentation that accurately reflects who they are,” Erchull said, “and nobody should be forced to carry inaccurate documentation.” There are many reasons why having gender-neutral options for IDs is important, ranging from making paperwork easier to personal safety to medical needs. “For many, the process of gender transition, which is a recognized aspect of treatment for gender dysphoria, involves obtaining correct identification documents as a critical component of an overall treatment plan,” Erchull said. 

For Hoffman, having a gender-neutral ID isn’t just about having their gender identity validated, but also for personal safety. “If I were to go out with friends drinking, or go to vote, or any of the hundreds of times each week that we’re asked for ID, people look at that and see that ‘M’ on my license, and then start thinking of me differently, and they might question me, and they might question me in ways that make me very unsafe,” they said. “It’s not so much that I’m worried about the bouncer at a bar who sees it and is like, ‘Oh, wait, is this really you?’ It’s that I’m worried about like the person behind me in line who overhears something and decides to make trouble because of that.”

When October arrives, Hoffman and many others plan to be in line to get their gender markers changed. “We’re sort of planning the media strategy,” they said, “and I think there’s a number of us from a number of organizations who are going to be going to the Motor Vehicle Administration’s main office in Glen Burnie to all go apply for our new ‘X’ markers there, so things are still moving along in an exciting way.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article used an incorrect first name for James Shupe.

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