LANSING — Michigan residents will soon be able to select a gender-neutral designation on their driver license or state ID cards: an X.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office will begin offering the nonbinary gender designation beginning Nov. 10, providing a new option for residents who do not identify as a traditional male or female, according to documents obtained by Bridge Michigan.
Benson confirmed the pending change in a statement: “I am proud to support Michiganders across the state who for many years have called on the Department of State to provide a nonbinary sex marker on their ID that matches their lived reality,” she said.
“We have been working towards this goal since 2019, when we first removed the barriers for residents to change their sex marker in order to help protect their safety and accurately reflect their identity.”
Twenty other states already allow a gender-neutral sex designation without requiring documentation from a medical provider, according to a Secretary of State memo to law enforcement groups. The U.S. Department of State issued its first nonbinary gender passport last week.
LGBT advocates had urged Benson to offer a nonbinary option for driver licenses, which currently only allow M or F designations. They celebrated the pending change when contacted by Bridge Michigan on Tuesday afternoon.
“There are individuals who do not necessarily identify with part of the gender binary, and those who are gender nonbinary should have the opportunity to have documents that accurately reflect who they are,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project.
“I think this is a terrific thing.”
But law enforcement groups fear their software may not be ready for the new ID designation, and while they have had earlier discussions with Benson’s office, her Monday letter caught many off guard, said Bob Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.
“We’ve expressed our concerns repeatedly to the secretary of state’s office on issues we’d like to address and resolve, but in spite of that, the policy is going (to change),” he told Bridge Michigan. “We’ll just have to do the best we can.”
The records management systems police use to log crime reports and other data have traditionally been set up with either or fields for male or female individuals, and warrant entries also include specific sex designation, Stevenson said.
Still, police hope they can update systems to coordinate with the new IDs, but doing so will cost money, he told Bridge Michigan.
“It’ll take a while before the ‘X’ licenses get into distribution, and I wouldn’t imagine there will be hundreds of thousands of them immediately, so I think we’ll have time to work through this,” Stevenson said.
Benson, in her Monday letter, wrote she told law enforcement leaders about the possible ID change two years ago and expects “many” have already updated their systems or connected with agencies in other states that have done so.
The change has been a long time coming: In early 2020, Benson confirmed she was contemplating a nonbinary designation for driver license and state ID cards. Earlier attempts had been complicated by state database software that could not readily accommodate the change.
Benson spokesperson Jake Rollow said Tuesday the department overhauled the “core technology behind its driver’s license and ID” systems. The work, completed in March 2021, expanded online transaction options and made the nonbinary gender designation option “feasible” with additional programming.
Residents who wish to change their sex-marker to ‘X’ will be able to do so by visiting any Secretary of State office, Rollow said, encouraging them to schedule an appointment online or by phone.
The change is important for nonbinary, intersex or gender-nonconforming residents who have traditionally been confronted with limited options from government, said Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan.
“This hopefully will mitigate harassment and discrimination and make people that chose to use the X, if you will, to feel as though they’re being treated fairly and with respect,” she said.