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Kansas Ordered to Stop Changing Gender Markers on Driver's Licenses

'Compliance with state legal requirements for identifying license holders is a public safety concern,' said District Judge Teresa Watson

A judge has ordered Kansas to stop altering the gender markers of driver’s licenses issued to people who identify as transgender. 

Kansas officials have been divided over the government’s recognition of alternative gender identities. Attorney General Kris Kobach sued members of Governor Laura Kelly’s administration last week in response to Kelly’s public announcement that the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles would continue altering driver’s licenses to accommodate transgender-identifying people’s preferences. Kansas residents have been able to change their gender marker to reflect their gender preferences on licenses for the last four years. 

Kansas legally defined gender as an individual’s sex at birth in May as part of legislation known as the “women’s bill of rights.” The Republican-led legislature overrode Kelly’s veto and the law took effect at the start of July. 

“In effect, it bars transgender and nonbinary people from accessing a broad range of single-sex places and services including specifically: prisons, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, locker rooms, restrooms and ‘other areas where biology, safety or privacy are implicated,’” reported The Kansas City Star after the policy was passed by the legislature. “Public facilities and agencies serving specifically men or women will be required to limit those services based on sex assigned at birth. If an agency serves someone or allows them to use a space that aligns with their gender identity but conflicts with their sex assigned at birth, that facility or agency would be in violation of this new law.”

District Judge Teresa Watson ruled on July 10 that the Kansas motor vehicles division cannot allow transgender-identifying people to change the sex on their driver’s license for at least the next two weeks.

Watson, who could elect to extend her order, wrote that continuing to issue new licenses to accommodate gender preferences would result in “immediate and irreparable injury.” She also affirmed that licenses “are difficult to take back or out of circulation once issued” and are valid for six years, as argued by AG Kobach.

“Licenses are used by law enforcement to identify criminal suspects, crime victims, wanted persons, missing persons and others,” Watson wrote, per WGMJ. “Compliance with state legal requirements for identifying license holders is a public safety concern.”

Kansas recorded a significant uptick in the number of people altering their driver’s license this year — four times higher than in 2022. 

“An average of 58 Kansas residents a month have changed their birth certificates so far this year, compared to an average of 13 from July 2019 through 2022,” reported AP News on June 28. “The state motor vehicle department reported this week that 161 people have changed their gender identity on their driver’s licenses so far this year, an average of 27 a month. That’s compared to an average of 5 1/2 per month from July 2019 through 2022.”

Notably, 80% of the 2023 changes in driver’s licenses were reported between May and June – after Kelly’s veto was overridden. 

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