M, F or X: Democratic senator's bill would allow gender-neutral option for Maryland driver's licenses

A bill is moving forward in the Maryland General Assembly that would give state residents a third option for gender on a driver’s license or identification card: “unspecified.”

The measure is meant to be inclusive to people who consider themselves “nonbinary,” or not identifying as either male or female.

“This is real life,” said Sen. Will Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat who is sponsoring the bill. “This is a way that we can recognize that segment of the population so they can feel like they can move throughout society with a little bit of ease.”

The Senate gave Smith’s bill preliminary approval Wednesday, setting it up for a final vote — and likely approval — by the end of the week.

Maryland would join about five states and the District of Columbia that already have a designation for unspecified gender on licenses and ID cards. Eleven countries have nonbinary or gender-neutral designations on their passports, which are accepted by U.S. authorities, Smith said.

The nation’s major airlines announced this week that they will allow passengers to identify their gender as “undisclosed” or “unspecified” when booking tickets.

Driver’s licenses would continue to have designations for a person’s sex as “M” for male and “F” for female, while adding a designation of “X” for “unspecified or other.”

“Are we going to call them X-Men?” asked Sen. J.B. Jennings, who was among a handful of Republicans who raised concerns about the bill.

“No,” Smith replied. “We’re not going that far.”

Jennings, who represents Harford and Baltimore counties, questioned whether a driver’s license would be accurate if it listed a gender other than male or female.

“When it comes to that information, I think it should be accurate,” Jennings said. “I understand that you have people who have gone through changes, but they’re either going one way or the other. They’re not stuck in the middle.”

Sen. Andrew Serafini, a Washington County Republican, was concerned that no paperwork would be required to select the new gender designation. Currently, a driver or ID cardholder who seeks to change the gender designation must provide documentation.

“We keep going down this line. Whether it’s a passport or it’s a birth certificate, this is an identification card, this is to identify you, and there are certain scientific things that they are what they are. … We want to be sympathetic, but these are ID cards,” Serafini said. “And the question is: Where will it go next?”

Sen. Dolores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, said having an unspecified gender is as valid as being male or female.

“X is real. Unspecified is real,” she said. “And we need to accept everybody that God made the way they are.”

Sen. Mary Washington, a Baltimore Democrat, said the state effectively is asking some Marylanders to lie on their licenses when it comes to selecting a gender.

“By passing this legislation, this body is allowing Marylanders to accurately represent … who they are,” she said.

Mark Procopio, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group FreeState Justice, said changing driver’s licenses would help Marylanders who find it distressing to present a driver’s license that doesn’t match who they are. That can lead to being called the wrong pronoun or being questioned about one’s gender.

And driver’s licenses are used so frequently — even for routine tasks like entering a government building or signing up for a library card — that nonbinary individuals face that stress repeatedly, Procopio said in an interview.

“When I talk to people who are nonbinary, who get misgendered or the wrong pronouns are used, it’s very much both an emotional and psychological reaction, but also a physical reaction, to not being recognized or affirmed,” he said.

Lee Blinder, founder of the advocacy group Trans Healthcare Maryland, said the change would remove hurdles for people in the transgender community. They can run into problems with housing, health care and employment when their identification doesn’t match their gender identity, Blinder said.

“When folks are not male or female, we don’t currently have the ability in Maryland to have an ID that reflects correctly,” said Blinder, who lobbied for the bill.

The state would incur some one-time costs to implement the change: $220,500 that the Motor Vehicle Administration would pay to a contractor to update the licensing system and about $158,000 for the judiciary to update its system, according to a nonpartisan analysis from the Department of Legislative Services.

The MVA might take in a little bit more money as some residents could seek new driver’s licenses or identification cards, the analysis noted.

Wednesday’s preliminary approval sets the bill up for a final vote as soon as Thursday. More than one-third of senators are co-sponsors of the bill.

A companion bill in the House of Delegates is scheduled for a hearing Thursday in the Environment and Transportation Committee.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

This article has been updated to clarify that the “X” designation is for people who are nonbinary. A previous version of the article also spelled Lee Blinder's last name wrong. The Sun regrets the error.
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