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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

Michigan will offer "X" as a nonbinary sex option on driver's licenses and state ID cards

Driver's license with sex listed as nonbinary "X"
Michigan Secretary of State
Nonbinary Michiganders will soon be able to choose "X" as a sex designation on driver's licenses and state IDs.

Michiganders will soon have a new option for sex identification on driver's licenses and state ID cards. Starting November 10, there will be a gender-neutral choice in addition to "M" or "F."

Jonathan Oosting first reported the news in a story for Bridge Michigan. He spoke to Michigan Radio's Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about the change.

Doug Tribou: Under the new practice, drivers will be able to select the letter "X" when asked for their gender. What did Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson have to say about the new option? 

Jonathan Oosting: Secretary of State Benson had actually been working on creating a non-binary designation for years now. There were some computer issues that prevented the state from immediately doing it when she first started thinking about this in 2019, but basically, she says her department has been contacted by folks who simply want an ID option that, as she put in a letter this week, accurately reflects them in order to "bolster their physical safety and affirm their lived reality."

DT:  You spoke to a couple of groups - the ACLU of Michigan and Equality Michigan - who are happy with the change. What did they have to say about the importance of the new designation? 

JO: They said it's going to be an affirming choice now for people to be able to put on their driver's license the nonbinary designation ... but also can help them potentially avoid discrimination and harassment, both in this process of getting an ID, but also in their daily lives as they present identification for whatever need may arise. So, they're really excited.

This has been talked about for several years in Michigan, but in the meantime, a lot of states had already moved forward with this. There are now 20 states that are already offering a similar option. And last week, the federal government just issued its first nonbinary designation on a passport.

“I am proud to support Michiganders across the state who for many years have called on the Department of State to provide a nonbinary sex marker on their ID that matches their lived reality.”
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

DT: And just to be clear, here in Michigan, there is no requirement for any medical documentation for people who want to have the "X" designation. They can just make the selection as they see fit?

JO: That's right. In fact, that was already a policy change that the secretary of state did make a couple of years ago, allowing folks to choose between a "M" or "F" without having to prove, medically, their sex. So, it's simply something you'll tell a Secretary of State clerk when you're in an office filling out paperwork.

DT: Some law enforcement groups here in Michigan are worried about the implementation of the change. What are their concerns?

JO: Like I mentioned, the state's computer systems were not immediately set up to handle this. The same is true for local law enforcement agencies, according to some folks I talked to, including Bob Stevenson. He's the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. He basically said, in log systems where they might be logging police reports, or something of that nature, maybe they have a dropdown field to input sex or gender, and male or female is the only option in there.

So, it could be a large undertaking for all of the different local law enforcement agencies we have across the state. He thinks they're going to be able to do it, but according to Stevenson, they've been raising these concerns for a while and haven't gotten much feedback.

The secretary of state, on the other hand, says she brought up this idea with them in 2019 and in subsequent meetings, so she's hoping that they already took steps to update their own computer systems. But according to Stevenson, that isn't actually the case in a lot of parts of the state right now.

DT: Jonathan, until I read your story, I wasn't aware the Secretary of State could make a change like this without sign-off from other people in government. What are the chances the practice could just be reversed by another secretary of state sometime in the future? 

JO: The Secretary of State is arguing this is in her purview, so ostensibly it could be pulled back. But you know, once the computer systems are upgraded both at secretary of state [offices and branches] and at the local law enforcement agency, that helps clear some hurdles to make this happen.

It's also possible that maybe the Legislature, if they're unhappy with this change, could try and write something into state law. We've seen that happen with some election changes, for instance, that the secretary of state made last year. I don't think this is necessarily the end of the discussion. I imagine there will be some pushback. But usually in history, when you give someone a right, it does become harder to take that right back.

Read more in Jonathan Oosting's story for Bridge Michigan, "Michigan to offer nonbinary designation for driver licenses next week."

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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