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LGBTQ+ advocates in Gainesville and statewide participate in a die-in demonstration at DMV

Students on their backs and holding signs
Kat Tran
Local LGBTQ+ rights advocates participate in a die-in demonstration on Feb. 9, 2024 in front of downtown Gainesville's Driver License and Motor Vehicle service center.

Groups forming a statewide coalition around the issue in Miami, Orlando and Tampa also launched their own demonstrations over a new policy prohibiting residents from altering their gender markers on driver licenses.

LGBTQ+ on Friday activists pretended to lie dead in front of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles office in Gainesville, a protest of the FLHSMV’s new policy prohibiting residents from altering their gender markers on driver licenses.

Groups forming a statewide coalition around the issue in Miami, Orlando and Tampa also launched their own demonstrations at respective local DMVs. Statewide, the demonstration duration totaled “37 minutes to symbolize the percentage of Floridians who were verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave or assaulted when showing an ID with a name or gender that did not match their external presentation,” said Maxx Fenning, 21, founder and executive director of PRISM, of Miami.

In Gainesville, the group laid dead for 33 minutes, one minute for each transgender resident killed last year, said Jack Petocz, a 19-year-old student from Flagler Beach who studies political science at Vanderbilt University.

While this was a grassroots collaborative effort by local advocates, they were also supported by LGBTQ+ rights organizations such as The Trevor Project, GLSEN Central Florida, Equality Florida, SPEKTRUM Health, Hope Community Center, Human Rights Campaign, Youth Action Fund and PRISM, Fennings said.

Safety measures in the form of police liaisons and legal observers were prepared in case any police arrests occurred at any die-in, Olivia Solomon, 22, UCF Graduate political science and writing major, of Miami, explained.

A narrator led the participants, who were placed into two teams: red, for individuals playing dead, and green, for others who still wished to support the effort without risking an arrest, Petocz detailed.

students preparing signs on a sidewalk
Kat Tran
From left, Rey Arcenas, 21, UF history and women's studies major, Raymond Parker, 25, UF sustainable development master's student, and Jack Petocz, 19, Vanderbilt political science major, prepare signs for Gainesville's die-in demonstration on Friday in Bo Diddley Plaza.

Robert Kynoch, deputy executive director of the FLHSMV, on Jan. 26 sent an internal memo to county tax collectors, describing a new policy that would no longer allow customers to update or alter gender markers on Florida licenses.

Replacement licenses will only be issued when one is lost or stolen, or a person has a significant change in the name, address, or restrictions, the memo read.

Kynoch’s directive also said anyone who attempts to alter their “internal sense of gender role or identity, which is neither immutable or objectively verifiable, undermines the purpose” of a license, which serves a critical role in helping public and private entities correctly identify a person.

Svetlana Dunn, 36, chief operating officer for Spektrum Health of Orlando, believes Florida is imposing restrictions on American freedoms and rights that makes it painful to be a transgender resident on a daily basis.

“It doesn't matter what background you come from, whether you’re rich, disadvantaged or have some kind of privilege,” Dunn said.

She references her friends and family who have crossed monumental hurdles, like time, effort and financial resources, to get their documents changed in a system that is unfairly stacked against the transgender community.

“Do you think a married couple has to jump through these hoops to change their name?” she asked.

The internal memo also outlined criminal and civil penalties, like revocation and cancellation of the license, for any gender marker changes on IDs.

Simone Chriss, 34, director of the transgender rights initiative at Southern Legal Counsel, clarified that a customer’s gender displayed on an identification card “must be taken from a primary identification document,” such as a U.S. passport or birth certificate.

Any criminal or civil penalty requires individuals to have knowingly provided false information to the FLHSMV, Chriss explained.

“No one who already amended [their license] prior to the policy change is providing false information,” Chriss said.

She also referenced a technical advisory that FLHSMV spokesperson Molly Best emailed in response to media requests. It stated that this policy change only applies to replacement IDs.

“No changes have been made to the process of establishing gender on a newly issued Florida credential, governed by s. 322.08, F.S.,” Best said.

Jake Hoffman, 33, president of The Tampa Bay Young Republicans said he believes the new policy does not stop people from identifying as male, female or nonbinary.

“Making sure people have their biological sex on an identification card is not the same as calling for your extinction,” Hoffman said.

He said the new policy addresses safety concerns when it comes to identifying those involved in car accidents and crimes.

“Let’s say a hit-and-run happens, the suspect leaves the scene and witnesses say ‘I saw a man leave the scene,’” Hoffman said. “Then, they’re tracked down and their ID says they're a female, so none of the witnesses were right. This is a very confusing situation where you need to identify people correctly.”

Rather than instilling fear and spreading the idea that Republicans are evil, Hoffman encourages the LGBTQ+ community to engage in productive conversations with different mindsets.

“I would be OK with driver licenses saying someone is male or female, and somewhere else designated, like a marker, that they are transitioning,” he said.

Pending state legislation that would require applications for driver licenses and identification cards to indicate a person's sex instead of his or her gender is currently making its way through Florida House committees but has not been heard in the full chamber nor in the Senate.

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Kat Tran