Indiana Republicans push anti-trans legislation days after gender-neutral license victory

Transgender people would face more barriers to get correct identification.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma with Senate President Pro Tem David Long (L) during a press conference about anti-discrimination safeguards added to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015. (CREDIT: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma with Senate President Pro Tem David Long (L) during a press conference about anti-discrimination safeguards added to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015. (CREDIT: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Indiana lawmakers are trying to make it harder for transgender and non-binary people to correct the gender on their ID cards and driver’s licenses only a few days after Indiana became the sixth state in the nation to provide non-binary people with a gender marker option.

A new amendment, introduced by a Republican state representative, would require people who want their correct gender marker on their ID card to first change their birth certificate — something that is often impossible for people born in a different state.

“It’s obvious to Indiana’s trans people that this attack is spiteful and not motivated by an attempt to protect anyone or fix anything anything that was broken in the BMV bureaucracy,” Kit Malone, advocate and educator with the ACLU of Indiana, told ThinkProgress. “It was simply that a news item caused people who are against trans equality to notice that there was something they could take away from us and they are working as quickly as they can to do that.”

A week ago, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) announced it would issue driver’s licenses and identification cards that provided a third gender option for non-binary and gender nonconforming people. It would designate their gender with X, rather than M and F for men and women. Susan Guyer, BMV spokesperson, told the Indianapolis Star that the decision was a “response to constituents requesting a non-binary marker.”


The change came about two years after Katherine Wood, an attorney with Indiana Legal Services, sought to change the ID policy. Ash Kulak, a public defender who advocated with Wood for the non-binary option, was reportedly the second person to get a non-binary ID, according to NBC News.

“Personally, I like knowing that I can hand over my ID and not have someone immediately know what a doctor thought about my sex assigned at birth, not have someone from an institution try to confirm their suspicions about what I could possibly be,” Kulak said to NBC News.

But on Wednesday, the House transportation committee voted to amend a bill, called Senate Bill 182, unrelated to the issue of gender markers, to say that people must use a birth certificate corresponding to their gender to get the correct gender marker on their ID. Rep. Holli Sullivan (R) proposed the amendment. Right now, transgender and non-binary people can provide a doctor’s statement to change their ID, a policy the BMV has held for a decade, according to the ACLU of Indiana. The committee meeting was not publicized far in advance, the Star reported, and no members of the public were present to testify in favor of or against the amendment. The GOP-led panel voted along party lines.

One day prior, another Republican lawmaker attempted a similar attack on trans rights. On Tuesday, Rep. Matt Hostettler proposed an amendment to a bill related to veterans seeking special license plates. That amendment outlawed the gender neutral designation. But after a closed-door meeting with Republican lawmakers, he abandoned the effort.

“The issue with [Sullivan’s amendment] is that many people who live in Indiana were born in states that do not allow the updating of a birth certificate,” Malone said. “Those people would be left with no ability to change and get an accurate driver’s license. It actually removed the ability of the BMV to issue driver’s licenses for folks who are unable to change that birth certificate for any number of reasons. That’s really problematic and leaves a lot of people in this limbo where they can’t do anything.”


According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, California, Oregon, Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine also provide a gender neutral option, along with the District of Columbia. In D.C., Oregon, Minnesota, and California, there is an option other than male or female for ID cards and licenses and no provider certification is required. In Indiana, Colorado, and Maine, you must provide certification.

State policies on changing gender markers on IDs varies widely. The National Center for Transgender Equality has also rated states according to how trans friendly their driver’s license gender change policies are. Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming received an F for proof of surgery, court orders, or a required amended birth certificate. 

Given the long history of anti-LGBTQ bills in Indiana, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Malone isn’t surprised lawmakers immediately sought to implement additional hurdles in response to an inch of progress for trans residents.

“[RFRA] would have enshrined religious discrimination into our state code. We were on the cutting edge of those kinds of laws back in the day,” she said. “Anti-LGBTQ and specifically anti-trans attack has been sort of an annual feature of our legislative session where trans people in Indiana seem to be a popular punching bag for the legislature and we have been here to fight this.”

Paul Castillo, counsel and students’ rights strategist in the South Central Regional Office of Lambda Legal, said that if this proposal does become law, there is some potential for a legal challenge.

“When you’re making a change in the law to target a population then, it carries with it a risk that litigation is going to be responsive to targeting non-binary and other gender nonconforming individuals when there has been no issue or problems with the process in the past,” he said. “But they’re doing it specifically in response to a change that the BMV said it can implement with no problem. You’re erecting additional barriers that weren’t there and so it does certainly create a likelihood that if passed, the state could be facing a legal challenge in the courts.”


Castillo added that this change would essentially force people to carry false identification and put people in vulnerable situations.

“Particularly with people who can’t update their birth certificate because they were born in a different state, it makes no sense for any state to require an individual to carry an identification document that is false,” Castillo said.

“Not only does it make it harder, in many cases, people who carry documents that aren’t correct are subjected to harassment and violence as a result. State governments should be in the business of making it easier for every person to carry accurate documents and not placing them in a situation where they may be subjected to harassment and other hurdles.”