An unlikely state has joined the wave of municipalities recognizing the identities of trans, non-binary, and intersex people: Arkansas.
At least two transgender people have been issued gender-neutral ID cards since the beginning of October. When Zach Miller saw that a friend, long-time trans organizer Beck Witt, successfully updated their state identification with an “X” marker on Oct. 8, Miller went down to the local DMV in Little Rock to do the same.
While the DMV representative was initially confused by the request, Miller described her as “receptive.”
“Hey, you learn new things every day,” the representative reportedly said when informed that Miller identifies as neither gender. In conversation with INTO, the nonbinary activist identified as “gendervoid” and requested that this story use neither male nor female pronouns when referring to Miller.
The request was processed immediately, Miller claimed. An updated ID was issued on Monday.
“It was very affirming to me,” said Miller, who serves on the board of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition. “It makes it clear that we exist — that gender nonconforming, non-binary, intersex, and trans people exist.”
When INTO reached out to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, the office confirmed the reports.
According to spokesperson Scott Hardin, that policy has been on the books for eight years. It was quietly rolled out in December 2010, when former Assistant Commissioner of Operations and Administration Mike Munns announced the change in an internal email shared with INTO.
“Our official policy is to allow a licensee to change their gender as requested, no questions asked, no documentation required,” he told staff. “Please see that this policy is followed.”
Munns could not confirm having sent the email. He passed away in Nov. 2011.
The change was implemented, however, without a formal announcement. The state of Arkansas has historically operated without a clear public policy as to changing gender markers on driver’s licenses and IDs.
Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality, confirmed a policy shift for the state.
“Across the country, states and municipalities are finding solutions that respect the safety and privacy of every citizen, regardless of gender,” Branstetter said in an email. “Every state should have policies in place allowing their official documents to accurately reflect the diversity of its residents.”
Lambda Legal called the change in policy a “great step forward for people in Arkansas.”
“I think you will continue to see states move in this direction with regard to identity documents from state identification to birth certificates,” said Paul Castillo, a senior attorney for the nationwide LGBTQ advocacy group.
Just a handful of U.S. municipalities offer some form of recognition for nonbinary, trans, and intersex residents — or anyone who doesn’t wish to have a gender marker listed on their identification. Last June, Oregon was thought to be the first state issue non-binary ID cards. Since that time, California, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C. have all rolled out similar options.
In addition to pursuing non-binary state IDs, Lambda Legal has been pressing the Department of Justice to issue gender-neutral passports at the federal level.
In 2015, the organization filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Dana Zzyym, an intersex person who has claimed choosing between “male” and “female” gender markers would force them to lie. Zzyym won their suit in 2016, but the DOJ has failed to issue a nonbinary passport. The case was recently reopened.
But sources say allowing trans and nonbinary people to list a gender-neutral pronoun on their passports and IDs is more than just about accurately reflecting their sense of self. It’s also about safety.
Miller remembered being pulled over a few years ago with a headlight out and presenting a female ID card.
“The police officer wasn’t especially aggressive, but then when I showed him my ID, he had a second officer come up,” Miller recalled. “He had his hand on his weapon. They accused me of having a fake ID. Then even when I told them that I was transgender, they became more aggressive. I was very concerned for my safety.”
To avoid hostile interactions or unwanted questions, Miller learned to stealthily cover the gender marker with a thumb. Being outed as trans, though, remained a major risk — whether it’s applying for jobs or presenting an ID at the bar.
Miller looked forward to giving the information to other trans people to help them avoid those unfortunate — and potentially dangerous — situations.
The Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition plans to fund the cost of IDs for those members of the community who cannot afford to update their gender marker, said Miller. Although the DMV offers low-cost options based on financial need, trans people face staggering levels of poverty.
The resources will be drawn from the group’s emergency funding pool, which is also available for those who cannot afford rent, food, or even bus passes.
Individuals in need will be able to apply through the organization’s website.
Image via Getty