Pa. allows non-binary option on driver’s licenses

A sample PA driver’s license.

LGBT advocates are lauding a new state initiative that permits people to change the gender marker on their driver’s license — including designating a non-binary gender — without needing a doctor’s note to do so. The new policy was announced by state officials on July 23. 

In a video accompanying the announcement, Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation Yassmin Gramian said PennDOT wanted to keep the new process simple.

“It was important to PennDOT to make the process for changing the gender designation as simple as possible,” Gramian said. “To change your gender designation, simply fill out the form and bring it to any PennDOT driver’s license center to complete the process.This form does not require the sign off of a medical or social-service provider.  Simply self-certify your gender. You tell us who you are and we believe you.”

Pennsylvania residents will need to pay a $30.50 fee to receive a new license or photo ID with the revised gender maker under the new policy.

Tyler Titus, vice chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBT Affairs, praised the initiative. “As a nonbinary person, having the ability to mark on my ID that my gender identity is real and valid is life-changing,” Titus said in a video. “It opens up many doors and breaks down many barriers for those of us who have to navigate systems day in and day out that unaffirm us, that don’t acknowledge us. And it gives us space to take a step in becoming our more authentic full selves in all spaces. To have our full authentic selves accepted, affirmed and supported by our state — it means the world to us.”

Titus added:  “I want to say as a non-binary person how grateful I am to PennDOT for taking this step forward, for coming out and supporting gender-expansive, non-binary individuals. Again, we face daily challenges that undermine who we are as humans. And to have a leading entity within our state take a step in the right direction and to affirm us as human beings has given me a sense of gratitude and value that I can’t really fully articulate. It sounds maybe silly to say that a marker on an ID means so much. But it means more than anybody will be able to understand — when you have to navigate through daily life not being valid or real to people. So having a space on a legal ID that says that I am who I am opens so many doors for us and it sets an example and a form for everybody else to follow within these systems. And so I am eternally grateful that a system within the commonwealth has stepped forward to protect non-binary and gender-expansive people.”

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, Deputy Executive Director for Policy and Action at the National Center for Transgender Equality, also praised the new policy.

“NCTE applauds PennDOT’s decision to offer a gender-neutral designation option for driver’s licenses and photo identification cards,” Heng-Lehtinen said. “Like everyone else, transgender people need accurate and consistent IDs to engage in the activities of everyday life — open bank accounts, start new jobs, enroll in school, and travel. Transgender people who have access to congruent identification are more able to live their lives fully and avoid the barriers and violence too often directed at transgender people. NCTE stands ready to assist PennDOT with the details of the policy, to ensure that the process associated with this option is accessible.”

According to NCTE, 19 states plus D.C. permit a gender-neutral option for driver’s licenses or photo ID cards. The states are: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington State.

Deja Lynn Alvarez, a trans leader, lauded the new policy. “I think it’s amazing and long overdue,” Alvarez said. “I appreciate PennDOT recognizing that everyone deserves to have their identity respected. I am super excited for my non-binary and gender-nonconforming siblings who are often left out of the conversation around trans issues.” 

Trans attorney Julie Chovanes said she’s pleased with the new policy. “I am very happy that people outside the binary are being recognized,” Chovanes said. “We are all people no matter how we self identify and self-recognition is fundamental to freedom in the U.S.  It is about time that that freedom becomes official policy across the land. And this is a welcome first step.”

Angela D. Giampolo, a  civil-rights attorney, echoed those sentiments. “Having to present an ID that does not conform with a person’s gender presentation often results in mistreatment,” Giampolo said. “And even if it doesn’t, the person presenting the ID is constantly alert and cautious. No one should have to navigate daily life afraid or feeling unsafe. And for gender non-binary Pennsylvanians, life is about to get just a little easier.”

Justin F. Robinette, a civil-rights attorney, said the new policy will benefit many of his clients. “So often in trans-related litigation, the opposing side makes hay out of the fact that my client has not effectuated a formal name change. They think that allows them to misgender the client or defend the case in a transphobic manner. This new PennDOT policy will help put an end to that.”

Naiymah Sanchez, a transgender leader, also hailed the new policy. “The policy created by PennDOT has come at a time when the affirmations, safety, basic needs, and simple respects for trans and non-binary people in America are being challenged by the Trump administration,” Sanchez said. “The initiatives by this state agency only affirm what we have been saying for so long about the need for inclusive data collection and respect for people’s identity. [PennDOT] seems to understand the challenges presented with access to affirming, affordable, and competent medical care with [the revised form’s] removal of a required signature from a medical/social worker for approval [of the] correction. And it makes me proud to be a Pennsylvanian.” 

Trans attorney Kristine W. Holt called the new policy “a step forward in accepting the differing flavors of gender. Some people will be sure to ridicule [the new policy] out of a lack of understanding and empathy. I certainly understand the [non-binary] phenomenon myself, having traversed the extremes of ‘male’ over the course of time into the realm of ‘female.’ In my case, I came to embrace the feminine — and all that entails. I may be wrong. But, to me, the non-binary, in my mind, is a blend of all genders, combining into unique individuals, that exist in their own right.”

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.