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Minnesota licenses can now designate gender as ‘nonbinary’

October 3, 2018

M.J. Zappa poses poses for a photo at the Medicine Lake Fire Station on Tuesday, October 2, 2018 in Medicine Lake, Minn. Zappa, a medic and firefighter identifies as gender non-binary. Minnesota has begun issuing driver's licenses that don't identify recipients only as either male or female, but as nonbinary if they prefer. Zappa, 26, got one of the first. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota has begun issuing driver’s licenses that don’t identify recipients only as either male or female, but as nonbinary if they prefer.

M.J. Zappa, 26, got one of the first. Zappa, of Medicine Lake, arrived at a state Driver and Vehicle Services office in St. Paul at 7:30 a.m. on Monday to take advantage of the change in policy. Zappa was welcomed in 30 minutes before the office opened and walked out with a temporary license and an assurance that a new card with an X where the M or F usually goes would soon come in the mail.

“I paid extra to fast-track it, so they said likely within seven days,” Zappa said.

Zappa, who grew up male and is known legally as Minnesota J Zappa, had requested a nonbinary license before but was told to come back in October after new software had been installed that would allow the option.

“I wish it would have happened sooner,” Zappa said, but added, “I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth it went.”

The new option came with the Monday rollout of new driver’s license software that allows people to register for Real IDs, which are fortified ID cards that meet federal standards for citizens to fly and enter some federal sites. The term nonbinary encompasses an array of descriptions for anyone who does not identify as male or female. Federal regulations allow the change, and California, Maine, New York, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C., already offer nonbinary licenses or soon will.

But Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety didn’t publicize the change, which has its critics.

State Sen. Scott Newman, a Republican from Hutchinson who chairs a transportation committee, questioned its legality, saying the change was “made unilaterally” by Democrats in Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration without legislative approval.

“Will this change hamper law enforcement’s ability to properly identify suspects, or hinder the investigative process in any way? The public deserves answers to these questions, or at least a dialogue about the potential repercussions,” Newman said.

Driver and Vehicle Services said in a statement that it “was a business decision to offer a third option to better serve all Minnesotans” and that applicants need not provide any documentation if they want to have an X mark the gender spot.

“Gender identification is a self-descriptor like eye color, height and weight,” the statement said.

The leader of a leading LGBTQ activist organization said her group has been pursuing this change for around two years and heard from government officials in June that the third option was imminent.

“What is really great about it is that people can have with them the gender identities that they are,” said Monica Meyer of OutFront Minnesota. “This is really great progress.”

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