An easy public enemy

An easy public enemy
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by Patrick Kuklinski

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For many trans people, changing the legal documents with remnants of their old identity can serve as a form of protection and comfort. Having legal recognition of your name and gender can make a world of difference for everything from employment to making a doctor’s appointment. Each state has different rules, and varying levels of difficulty accompany these changes of course. Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Montana all expressly forbid changing the gender marker on a birth certificate. And now, in a historic decision, the state of Florida is not only banning gender changes on driver’s licenses, they’re revoking previously issued licenses, and accusing those who hold them of fraud. 

While 2023 might not have been a great year for transgender Americans, with historic numbers of anti-trans bills becoming law, 2024 is already off to a terrible start. 

When America fucks up, we rarely treat it as such; we’re more likely to either pretend it never happened, or blame the problem on someone else. And such is the case now with Florida’s decision to ban alterations to driver’s licenses for transgender individuals. Citizens are responsible for replacing their now “fraudulent” credentials or paying the price. Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles's deputy executive director Robert Kynoch said in a memo released in late January that someone "misrepresenting" their gender, meaning not publicly identifying as their sex assigned at birth, constitutes "criminal and civil" fraud. "Permitting an individual to alter his or her license to reflect an internal sense of gender role or identity, which is neither immutable nor objectively verifiable, undermines the purpose of an identification record and can frustrate the state’s ability to enforce its laws," the memo states. 

And yet, for years, these altered licenses were distributed without issue. Frankly, this change in policy doesn’t adhere to common sense, making it clear the true intent was always oppression of transgender people, not protection for cisgender people. The memo notes that “the security, reliability, and accuracy of government issued credentials is paramount,” but if my license were to mark me (an average looking white man) as F today, it would be much more confusing for law enforcement officials. 

Even more bizarrely, the bill asks that every Florida resident, transgender or not, applying for a new or renewed driver's license must sign an affidavit certifying that the sex listed on the application is identical to the one on their original birth certificate. If it is found not to match, the card must be revoked. It’s an odd request to make, and a harder one to verify. Will the law force the DMV clerk to pat me down if they aren’t sure I’m being 100% truthful? Unlikely, meaning that for those moving in from out of state (not that many transgender individuals will choose to do so), there’s really no way to accurately enforce this law on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, some intersex individuals hold amended birth certificates. It’s unclear whether the law would consider them fraudulent in this case. 

What does this change mean for Florida’s trans residents? While anti-trans sentiment has been building in the state for years, this move will oust many trans Floridians, as well as parents of transgender children seeking safety for their child. Sadly, many have already been forced to move elsewhere to seek healthcare after last year’s expansive gender-affirming care ban, fronted by Ron DeSantis. Forbidding alterations to one’s personal identification means that many Floridians will be barred not only from employment and healthcare, but also daily life. We can forget safely going out for drinks with friends, buying cigarettes at a gas station, or even picking up certain cold medications. This decision not only excludes transgender people from a legal standpoint, it alienates them and drives them away from social interaction. Surely given Republicans’ obsession with trans people, and Florida Republicans in particular, that’s largely the point. 

The way this change arrived so abruptly and drastically altered many peoples’ lives has left many LGBTQ+ U.S. citizens reeling. It’s clear that the anti-trans bills being pushed forward by many leading Republicans are not only picking up in numbers, they’re increasingly insane. The introduction of House Bill 5243, also known as the “West Virginia’s Women’s Bill of Rights,” seeks to legally define that “there are only two genders, and every individual is either male or female.” (Again, it’s unclear how the existence of intersex people fits into this ideology. Likely, the proponents of the bill either don’t care or would support dangerous and harmful sex confirmation surgeries on intersex infants). Either way it’s obvious that there’s no space for trans or nonbinary individuals in the state. 

Nationwide, trans rights have been left in the lurch, but Florida seems to be taking one of the hardest hits. One of the extremist anti-trans bills being introduced is HB 599/SB 1282: Gender Identity Employment Practices. In essence, these bills would expand on the infamous (and already plenty regressive) “Don’t Say Gay” law, and allow abuse of transgender individuals in the workplace. Introduced by Rep. Ryan Chamberlin, R-Belleview, and Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, the bill would not only make LGBTQ+ sensitivity trainings a criminal offense, it would “prohibit employees from being penalized on the basis of deeply held religious or biology-based beliefs.” While this vague language leaves a lot unsaid, it also says plenty: trans individuals must conform via detransition, or Florida doesn’t want them. When I was fired for being transgender, that wasn’t the language used – my boss discussed my transition with coworkers, but mostly talked about how I was weird or creepy. I worked on a small farm, and we hosted a lot of public events, particularly for kids and families, and my boss deemed me "unsafe" around kids. I guess because all trans people are pedos. By making transgender people an “other,” Republicans find an easy public enemy.

After Trump’s election, many trans Americans struggled with the resulting wave of acceptance towards anti-trans actions. After cries about progressive media brainwashing children into trans acceptance and the insidious way that trans Americans were – gasp! –  living their everyday lives in peace, the federal government not only allowed trans discrimination, they reveled in it. As the rates of trans-based hate crimes rose and internet chatrooms gossiped about imaginary predators masquerading as women, transgender Americans didn’t give up hope, they got angry. While these changes in legislation, designed to erase a group of citizens and further divide the country, are good scare tactics, trans people are not ready to stop fighting. There is a wave of young, smart, and very pissed off transgender people coming to the workforce, and breaking into politics, and the betrayals of the past decade have not been forgotten. They’ve always tried to suppress any younger more progressive generation in this country, and it never lasts for long. It won’t this time either. We won’t let it. 

Patrick Kuklinski is a longtime writer and transgender man living in New Hampshire with his found family and many pets. You can find him at @todaysbird on Tumblr.