Arkansas’ elimination of ‘X’ as option for sex on licenses and IDs endorsed by GOP lawmakers

(Source: Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration)

A predominantly Republican panel on Thursday endorsed an Arkansas agency’s elimination of “X” as an option alongside male and female on state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, despite skepticism from Democratic lawmakers about the move.

The Arkansas Legislative Council’s executive subcommittee approved the emergency rules for the new policy announced this week removing an option that had been used by nonbinary and intersex residents. The new policy also makes it more difficult for transgender residents to change the sex listed on their IDs and licenses.

The agency said it was rescinding a practice implemented in 2010 that officials say conflicted with state law and had not gone through proper legislative approval.

“As I reviewed it, it became pretty clear to me that, one, it was really not lawfully authorized,” Finance and Administration Secretary Jim Hudson told the panel. “The second is it was inconsistent with statutory law and just commonsense public policy as well.”

Arkansas is the latest among Republican states to legally define sex as binary, which critics say is essentially erasing the existence of transgender and nonbinary people and creating uncertainty for intersex people — those born with physical traits that don’t fit typical definitions of male or female.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas announced Thursday that it was appealing a judge’s order blocking Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration from allowing transgender people to change the sex listed on their license.

At least 22 states and the District of Columbia allow “X” as an option. Only about 500 of Arkansas’ 3.1 million active state-issued driver’s licenses and IDs have the “X” designation.

Democratic lawmakers questioned the need to move quickly to change the policy and also the agency’s argument that it’s needed for public safety.

Democratic Sen. Clarke Tucker noted that the state isn’t requiring the same level of verification for other information listed on licenses, such as eye color or height.

“Why are we focused just on gender and not all of the information on driver’s licenses?” Tucker said.

The new policy makes it more difficult for transgender people to change the sex listed on their licenses and IDs by requiring an amended birth certificate be submitted. Currently a court order is required for changing the sex on a birth certificate.

Under the new rules, the designated sex must match a person’s birth certificate, passport or Homeland Security document. Passports allow “X ”as an option. If a person’s passport lists “X,” the applicant must submit a form choosing male or female.

The emergency rules will be in place for 120 days as the department works on permanent ones that will go through a public comment process. They are to take effect after the full Legislative Council reviews them Friday.

Arkansas has enacted several measures in recent years targeting the rights of transgender people. Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has called the change common sense, signed an executive order last year banning gender-neutral terms from state documents.