HARRISBURG — Motorists who don’t want to disclose their gender will be able to place an “X” on their driver’s licenses instead of identifying themselves as male or female by the middle of 2020, a Department of Transportation spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Thirteen other states, including neighboring Maryland, and most recently New Hampshire have rolled out plans to give residents a gender-neutral option on driver’s licenses, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, based in Washington, D.C. The group tracks identification issues facing transgender residents and lobbies for changes.
New Hampshire’s law creating a gender-neutral option for driver’s licenses takes effect in January. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu allowed the bill to become law without his signature on July 10.
In Pennsylvania, the Department of Transportation believes it can make the change without action by the General Assembly, said Erin Waters-Trasatt, a PennDOT spokeswoman.
Officials at PennDOT “plan to deploy a systematic process to make available the use of an X indicator for gender before this time next year,” Waters-Trasatt said.
She said that the section of the Vehicle Code that dictates what type of information should be included on driver’s licenses gives the agency the authority to offer the gender-neutral option.
The state vehicle code doesn’t include any language mandating that the driver’s gender be described on the license, according to a copy of the code posted online. Instead, it says that driver’s licenses should include the driver’s name, date of birth, address, a photograph and “such other information as may be required by the department.”
Republican lawmakers contacted Tuesday were skeptical of the plan.
“It’s an unnecessary change,” said state Rep. Tedd Nesbit, R-Mercer County. He said that removing a gender marker on ID could make it more difficult for police to relay identifying information.
State Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver, R-Northumberland County, said that an immediate concern would be whether the change would create problems in complying with the federal REAL ID requirements.
Other issues might come to light as the public learns about the proposal, she said.
“We need to hear from them,” she said.
The department’s plan was welcomed by advocates though at least one questioned why it’s going to take PennDOT so long to roll out the change.
“PennDOT’s statement that it is committing resources to make a gender-neutral marker is an important step,” said Thomas Ude, legal and public policy director for the Mazzoni Center, a Philadelphia-based organization that lobbies for LGBT rights. “Systematic change takes time, but a year would be a long time for folks to wait for an accurate ID. I hope and suspect that advocacy and determination can make it happen much sooner.”
Waters-Trasatt said the projection that it will take a year to get the change implemented " is only an estimate and we plan to have those system changes completed as quickly as possible."
Ude said state law gives PennDOT the authority to do it.
The Department of Transportation in 2010 adopted new regulations allowing transgender people to get their driver’s license gender marker to match the gender they identify as, he said. It did so without action by the General Assembly, he said.
To get their gender changed on driver’s licenses, transgender individuals must get a doctor to sign a form indicating that they are living full-time in the gender they want used on the license. Prior to that change, transgender people had to get a doctor to certify that they had undergone sexual reassignment surgery, according to the Mazzoni Center.
While PennDOT’s existing rules allow transgender people to get their licenses changed, the move to offer a gender-neutral option is still important, Ude said.
Getting a doctor’s signature, he said, is an unnecessary hurdle.
Ude added that offering a gender neutral option also shouldn’t create any problem in complying with new federal REAL ID regulations. The federal law indicates that it’s up to the states to determine how to handle the listing of gender on ID, he said.
Waters-Trasatt also said PennDOT officials believe they can make the change and still satisfy the REAL ID requirements.
“I don’t know what the state’s interest is” in having a gender designation on ID, said Jordi Comas, of Lewisburg, a board member of Equality PA, a statewide group advocating for LGBT rights. “Your identification has your name and photo, that’s what they need,” Comas said.
A National Center for Transgender Equality survey released in 2016 that included 28,000 transgender respondents found that 69 percent of Pennsylvania respondents said they had ID that listed the wrong gender, said Arli Christian, state director for the organization.
Thirty percent of those who participated in the survey from Pennsylvania said they’d been verbally harassed, denied service or assaulted after they provided ID that included a gender different from the one they identify as, Christian said.