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Arkansas ends gender-neutral policy for driver’s licenses and IDs

The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration rescinded a policy Tuesday that allowed state driver’s license and ID holders to electively change their gender without any “verifiable information” or use the gender-neutral “X” in place of gender.

The ACLU of Arkansas said in a statement that policy changes like these threaten the “safety and dignity” of the state’s transgender, intersex and non-binary communities.

The policy revision, which took effect immediately, mandates “that license and ID holders must display a gender of ‘male’ or ‘female,’ as indicated on an original or amended birth certificate,” according to a news release announcing the decision.

Arkansas licenses and IDs that currently have an X “will remain valid” until their next renewal, when they will change to reflect the gender on their owner’s birth certificate, according to the DFA.

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders sought to cast the policy change as “common sense” in a statement included in the news release, and she reiterated her belief that “there are only two genders.”

Arkansas DFA Secretary Jim Hudson said in the news release that the previous policy was “not supported by Arkansas law” and “was never subject to public comment” or legislative review as required. He said the policy reversal is part of the department’s mission to “keep our communities safe and to prevent fraud.”

But the announcement was met with swift criticism from LGBTQ civil rights advocates, who view it as part of an ongoing push from conservative lawmakers to restrict or limit the rights of transgender and non-binary Americans.

Although many US states have expanded gender identity options on public documents, some states more recently have enacted laws restricting transgender restroom use, access to gender-affirming care and participation in sports.

The ACLU of Arkansas said in a statement that the change from the DFA “seeks to erase the existence of non-binary and intersex Arkansans by denying them identity documents that reflect their true selves, forcing them into categories that do not represent their identities,” the civil rights advocacy group said.

“Labeling this policy rollback as a ‘commonsense approach’ is not only misleading but deeply harmful. Such outdated, disproven, and discriminatory ideas about gender identity do nothing to protect people; instead, they alienate and endanger the transgender community.”

The ACLU statement also said that removing the ability for people to have an ID “that accurately reflects their true self” is “not just a matter of dignity” but is necessary for the “safety and well-being” of transgender, intersex and non-binary Arkansans.

Ash Orr, press releations manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement shared with CNN that the policy change “adds to the concerning trend of Arkansas’ state agencies using administrative means to target the transgender community.”

“Access to identity documents is crucial in daily life, impacting activities like work, voting, travel, and engagement with government institutions,” Orr said. “When a government agency refuses to provide identification that aligns with a person’s identity, it implies that those individuals are not worthy of basic respect and safety.”

The Arkansas DFA has also sent an emergency rule that would specify the process the DFA would “follow to validate a license or ID holder’s gender” to the ALC’s Executive Subcommittee for review, according to the DFA news release.

Florida enacted a similar law in late January, barring Floridians from electing to update or change their gender on driver’s licenses, according to a memo sent to state officials by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and obtained by CNN.

The memo stated that anyone found guilty of “misrepresenting one’s gender” could be subject to criminal and civil penalties, CNN previously reported.

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