New PennDOT Policy Affirms Life Experiences of Non-Binary Pennsylvanians

By Naiymah Sanchez, Trans Justice Coordinator, ACLU of PA

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Naiymah Sanchez speaks outside City Hall in Philadelphia in 2017. (Photo: Ben Bowens)

Over the summer, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced a new policy that will allow a third gender marker option on drivers’ licenses. Along with ‘M’ for male and ‘F’ for female, license holders will also have the option to choose ‘X’ for gender non-binary.

This new policy is another important step forward to recognize the real lives of people who identify as gender non-binary. I am grateful that Governor Tom Wolf’s administration understands the value in this kind of policy. The message it sends to non-binary people is clear: We see you, and your government supports you.

Although gender non-binary people are increasingly visible, their experiences and their lives may be unknown by many people who identify by traditional gender roles. That’s ok; what’s important is that people who lack awareness about gender non-binary people are respectful and are open to understanding what it means.

A person who identifies as gender non-binary is someone who does not fully identify with being male or female. They may live their lives with aspects of both genders. Or they may not identify with any traditional gender traits at all. This is not new; cultures throughout history have recognized more than two genders as part of the human experience. We’ve just been slow to understand and embrace it in western societies. Some people in the United States continue clinging to binary gender roles and their own archaic view of male and female archetypes.

Of course, inevitably, some legislators resist progress. Five weeks after PennDOT’s announcement, a state representative from Bedford County announced his intention to introduce a bill to rollback the policy and restore gender binary markers. There is nothing in state law that prevents PennDOT from implementing this policy. In fact, state law does not require a gender marker at all; it exists as a PennDOT policy. But this particular legislator apparently thinks the policy “warrants legislative approval” because he just doesn’t like it.

We shouldn’t be surprised. He’s the same state representative who tried to shut down access to gender affirming procedures and services for young people on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, in 2017. That bill failed spectacularly, thanks in large part to the work of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and our partners, and we intend to fight this new bill vigorously, as well.

Still, we’re not going to let one state representative take away from how momentous the new PennDOT policy is and what an important, well, marker it is in the march toward equality for non-binary Pennsylvanians.

PennDOT officials have said that they expect to have the new marker option available by next summer. Our hope is that the department can implement the policy as soon as possible. Gender non-binary Pennsylvanians will be ready for the change.

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