Mississippi revises way to change gender on driver’s license

Published 2:02 pm Thursday, November 4, 2021

Mississippi is simplifying the process for people to change their gender designation on driver’s licenses or identification cards issued by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.

According to a Mississippi newspaper, the DPS created a form in October that people can fill out to change their gender marker on the licenses or ID cards from male to female or female to male. The form does not have a non-binary option.

However, it has been rumored that the DPS has backtracked on this new development. There has been no official confirmation of this claim as of yet.

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The form must be signed by a medical or social service provider who agrees with the person’s own gender designation. Previously, a Mississippi resident who wanted to change the gender marker on their license had to first amend their birth certificate, which requires a court order and medical documentation.

Alexandra Dogwood grew up in Mississippi and told the Sun Herald she recently moved back from Missouri. Dogwood, who identifies as a transgender woman, had already legally changed her name and had completed a gender designation form in Missouri.

Dogwood said when she went to get a new Mississippi driver’s license in Hattiesburg, employees would not give her one because the sex on her Mississippi birth certificate did not match her Missouri paperwork and license. The employees said the birth certificate was the only document they could accept. Mississippi, Missouri and most other states are part of a compact to recognize each other’s driver’s licenses.

Dogwood said employees addressed her as “sir,” read her documents aloud and laughed at her as she left without a license.

An attorney representing her, Matthew Lawrence of Hattiesburg, filed a complaint against the Department of Public Safety on Oct. 21 in Hinds County Chancery Court. Lawrence argued that because amending a birth certificate can often take up to six months, it was impossible for Dogwood and others in her position to comply with a law requiring them to get a Mississippi driver’s license within 60 days of moving to the state.

Mississippi law specifies that the commissioner of public safety may set “reasonable rules and regulations” about driver’s licenses.

The new gender designation form on the Department of Public Safety website is labeled “10.13.21,” eight days before Dogwood’s complaint was filed.

“It’s like Mississippi is saying for the first time, we acknowledge that trans people live in Mississippi,” Dogwood told the newspaper. “‘Cause for the longest time they’ve refused to acknowledge that this is even something that can happen. And that has created a culture where employees feel like they have the right to harass you, for trying to use a public service.”

“I was very pleased to hear about the changes in process that Alexandra Dogwood’s lawsuit prompted,” said Jaime Harker, Ph.D, professor of English and director of the Sarah Isom Center at the University of Mississippi.

The Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies educates about issues of all genders and sexualities, promotes interdisciplinary research, and advocates for diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Center also sponsors the annual events for LGBTQ+ History and advocate for Oxford Pride.

“The laws in this state have targeted the LGBTQ+ community for many years, and most recently, anti-trans legislation in the state has encouraged intolerance and harassment of the trans community,” said Harker. “Any changes that ensure that all citizens in this state are treated with dignity and respect are welcome.”

Kevin Raymond, director of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety’s driver service bureau, issued a memo to employees Thursday describing the new policy.

“A person’s transgender or non-binary status should be treated with sensitivity and confidentiality, just as one would treat any other personal life experience,” Raymond wrote. “A transgender or non-binary customer may or may not want to discuss their gender identity or expression with employees. Respect the wishes of the customer.”

Raymond also wrote: “Employees must not engage in gossip about any customer, especially personal issues such as gender identity or expression.”

Harker said while Mississippi prides itself on being the hospitality state, it has often not been hospitable toward the LGBTQ+ community.

“We need to do better,” she said. “We are fortunate to have Mississippians like Alexandra Dogwood in our communities, and we need to ensure that Mississippi citizens, in the future, don’t have to go to court to be treated equitably and fairly.”