New Yorkers can now choose X gender markers on state IDs in ‘significant milestone’

Revellers take part in a New York Pride parade

Non-binary New Yorkers will now be able to have state identification cards with an X gender marker on them – a simple but seismic step forward.

New York governor Kathy Hochul announced Friday (27 May) that driver’s licences, learner permits and non-driver ID cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices will have the gender-neutral option.

New Yorkers have a host of options when it comes to updating their IDs. Those already carrying the documents will be able to apply through the DMV or will be able to do so online in July.

The new state law, which will come into effect on 24 June, was described by state officials as a “significant milestone”.

The DMV revealed on Twitter that the agency has issued its first batch of X-marked photo IDs.

Hochul said in a statement: “As we prepare to celebrate Pride Month in a few days, I am excited to announce this historic change that represents another victory in our fight to help ensure equality and respect for the LGBTQ+ community.

“Every person, regardless of their gender identity or expression, deserves to have an identity document that reflects who they are.”

“Perhaps more than any other state agency, New Yorkers directly engage with their government through the DMV, so offering identity documents that are representative of all New Yorkers is a significant milestone,” added the agency’s commissioner Mark JF Schroeder.

Having an inaccurate state ID document can pose many problems for non-binary folk. State IDs are vital for many day-to-day services in New York, from health benefits and welfare support to getting a job and using a public library.

An ID with an X gender marker will also be essential for non-binary people changing their names and updating their birth certificates.

Among them is Priya Nair, the governor’s office’s deputy chief diversity officer. “As a transgender and non-binary New Yorker, this action means that I can now get a driver’s license that better reflects my identity,” they said.

“It’s not only the correct gender marker, but it’s also an action which demonstrates that New York State affirms and sees me for who I am.”

New York governor Kathy Hochul. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A third tick-box when applying for a state ID was part of the state’s Gender Recognition Act, approved overwhelmingly by state lawmakers in 2021, which streamlined how trans and non-binary people can legally change their gender.

But non-binary New Yorkers, in part, have Sander Saba to thank for Friday’s new policy. Saba, a non-binary lawyer, sued the state in 2021, claiming the DMV made it impossible for them to even apply for an accurate driver’s license.

Court documents show that Saba, an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, sought to swap their Pennsylvania driver’s license for a New York one, as required by state law.

In the application form, however, they only had two options for their gender: “M” and “F”. Saba urged the DMV to overhaul its computer system to allow an X gender marker to be available.

The Manhattan federal court and Saba agreed to dismiss the suit in April 2021 under the condition that the Gender Recognition Act be passed – former governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law in June.

“Every person should be able to access identity documents that reflect who they truly are without having to validate their personhood in court,” Saba said in a statement on Friday.

“It’s my sincere hope that, as we move ahead, other transgender and non-binary New Yorkers will be able to live their lives with the respect and dignity they deserve in every facet of their lives.”

Processes to change a driver’s licence or birth certificate can vary from state to state, the monitoring group National Center for Transgender Equality says.

The patchwork can leave trans and non-binary Americans frustrated and disempowered. According to a report from the Williams Institute, 42 per cent of trans people who are eligible to vote in 45 American states do not have accurate identification documents.

Some activists, countries and international agencies, however, wonder if there’s any point in having a gender marker on IDs at all.