Maine is the third state in the nation to offer the option of non-binary gender designation on driver’s licenses and identification cards.
The change was made after Ian-Meredythe Dehne Lindsey – a South Portland person who identifies as neither male nor female and has suffered through decades of alienation and abuse because of it – was denied a driver’s license with a non-binary gender designation last year and filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission.
The Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles announced Monday that it has begun issuing a sticker that can be applied to backs of licenses or IDs that reads: “Gender has been changed to: X – Non-binary.”
Applicants must submit a gender designation form, which is available at bureau branch offices or through a link on the bureau’s “Forms & Applications” page. The non-binary option was added to an existing form that was created several years ago so people could change their gender designation to male or female.
For the time being, card fronts will still show an “M” for male or “F” for female. The bureau will begin issuing cards with an “M,” “F” or “X” on the front and phase out the stickers starting in July 2019, after a computer system upgrade and a redesign of licenses and IDs.
The decision to offer the non-binary option came after Zack Paakkonen, a Portland attorney who is president of EqualityMaine’s board of directors, filed a complaint with the human rights commission on behalf of Dehne Lindsey, 33, an office worker, actor and activist on gender-related issues.
In June 2017, Dehne Lindsey requested a driver’s license with a non-binary gender marker but was denied because the bureau’s computer system couldn’t accommodate the change, EqualityMaine said. The commission invited the parties to participate in mediation, which resulted in the agreement.
“We know gender is a spectrum and some people don’t identify as male or female,” Paakkonen said. “It’s important that driver’s licenses and other forms of ID recognize people who are non-binary.”
VALIDATION AND RECOGNITION
For Dehne Lindsey, who asks to be addressed by the pronouns “they” or “them,” the agreement was a huge personal victory, one with the power to bring non-binary people out of the shadows and into the light.
“Having the sticker validates my existence,” Dehne Lindsey said Monday. “It was extremely important for me and for non-binary individuals in general. It shows that we’re human beings and worthy of being recognized.”
Faced with choosing “M” or “F” time after time, Dehne Lindsey felt invisible. When forced to make a choice, Dehne Lindsey picked “F” and felt like a liar.
“I would pick ‘female’ and just die a little bit inside,” Dehne Lindsey said. “I would spend 15 to 20 minutes agonizing over it.”
Not having a truthful gender designation on a driver’s license or ID can lead to unnecessary confusion, such as when seeking emergency health care, buying alcohol or interacting with police, Dehne Lindsey said. And it opens the door to much worse, including harassment, discrimination and abuse, Dehne Lindsey said.
A rape survivor who flies regularly to visit family members, Dehne Lindsey described being groped on several occasions while being patted down by airport security – experiences that brought back the horror of Dehne Lindsey’s assault and triggered debilitating panic attacks. Dehne Lindsey decided to take action after the state refused the request for a license with a non-binary gender designation.
“I said to myself, ‘This sucks so much, what can I do to make this go away?’ ” Dehne Lindsey recalled.
Born in Oregon, Dehne Lindsey was in eighth grade when the family moved to Maine. Dehne Lindsey, who began identifying as non-binary and using a different pronoun several years ago, remembers feeling isolated and different as a child.
Once, when new to a neighborhood and first meeting a group of kids, Dehne Lindsey forged a backyard introduction in the voice and manner of Spock, the human-Vulcan character on the TV show “Star Trek,” then scurried off.
“Growing up I was convinced I was an alien because I didn’t fit in,” Dehne Lindsey said.
Dehne Lindsey said non-binary friends who heard the announcement Monday were “beside themselves. They can’t wait to go and get stickers for their IDs.”
MAINE AMONG THE FIRST
In 2017, Oregon became the first state to allow a non-binary gender marker on driver’s licenses. The District of Columbia and California also offer the same gender designation options on licenses.
Also last year, Oregon became the second state, after California, to enact legislation allowing individuals to amend their birth records without going to court, including non-binary designations.
Dehne Lindsey also recently applied for a new birth certificate from Oregon.
“I just sent them a $35 check,” Dehne Lindsey said.
Matt Moonen, EqualityMaine’s executive director, said getting non-binary birth certificates in Maine is on the organization’s radar.
Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Monday that his office has been moving toward greater recognition of gender diversity since it changed the “sex” designation on licenses and IDs to “gender” several years ago.
“We understand that it’s very, very important for people in these situations to see it in writing,” Dunlap said. “We don’t want the designation to be wrong. I’m all about people being able to say who they are. The ‘X’ designation covers a lot of things.”
Mainers seeking a driver’s license or ID card can submit a gender designation form at any bureau branch office. Those who already have a valid license will receive a gender designation sticker in the mail, with instructions on where to place it. The bureau is not assessing a fee to provide the sticker for an existing license or ID.
Those who require a license renewal or duplicate license will receive their new license with the sticker affixed. Standard renewal and duplicate license fees will apply.
The decision to offer a non-binary gender designation was praised in public statements by MaineTransNet, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, known as GLAD, and the ACLU of Maine.
“This change represents the next major step towards full legal recognition of the lives of transgender Mainers,” said Quinn Gormley, executive director of MaineTransNet. “Affirming and accurate IDs help to break down significant barriers to housing, employment and education faced by many transgender people.”
Mary Bonauto, GLAD’s civil rights project director, said identity documents play a substantial role in how people navigate the world.
“All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and this simple change makes that possible for more Mainers today,” Bonauto said.
“Transgender and gender-nonconforming people, like all people, deserve to live their lives without the government compromising their privacy, safety, autonomy, dignity or equality,” said Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director at ACLU of Maine.