Illinois approves nonbinary state ID documents, but gender-neutral option might not be available for years

The secretary of state’s office will update its technology to offer the new gender marker when current vendor contract ends in 2024.

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The secretary of state’s office will offer non-binary gender markers on Illinois IDs and driver’s licenses once it updates its card issuance system.

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A new law will allow for gender-neutral markers on Illinois driver’s licenses and ID cards, but nonbinary people could be waiting until 2024 for the cards to be issued.

The new policy, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Friday, was largely seen as a victory for nonbinary people — an umbrella term for those whose gender identity doesn’t align with male or female. In states that already offer nonbinary ID cards, the gender is usually designated with an “X” instead of “M” or “F.”

“This is about people having a legal document that demonstrates who they authentically are as a person,” said Mike Ziri, public policy director for Equality Illinois. “For nonbinary individuals, this is an issue of safety and security.”

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Mike Ziri, public policy director at Equality Illinois | Sun-Times file photo

However, the gender-neutral cards cannot be offered until the Illinois Secretary of State’s office updates its driver’s license and ID card issuance system. It’s a process that could take years, according to Dave Druker, a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office.

Druker said Illinois is locked into a six-year contract with IDEMIA, a multinational identity solutions company formerly known as MorphoTrust USA. The state renewed its contract with IDEMIA in 2018 to implement Illinois’ REAL ID program, and the contract doesn’t end until 2024.

“We’ll be rebidding for a contract with someone who can incorporate the third gender marker,” Druker said. “If it’s possible to do this sooner with [IDEMIA], then we’re going to do it.”

A spokesperson for IDEMIA said in an emailed statement that the company is “aware of the need to make the change to the gender identifier and stand ready to support the request.”

”We understand the from the Secretary of State that this change will require a complete rewrite of their operational system. We will implement the change for the agency as soon as their systems are ready to support the requested change,” IDEMIA’s spokesperson said.

Druker said the Secretary of State’s office supported Equality Illinois in passing the bill, which was co-sponsored by State Rep. Anna Stava-Murray (D-Downers Grove) and State Sen. Cristina Castro (D-Elgin).

According to Druker, the office will also soon allow people to change their gender markers without any formal documents when renewing IDs and driver’s licenses. A doctor’s recommendation is required under the current procedure.

Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the ACLU’s Illinois chapter, said the new law reflects “the growing acceptance and understanding that gender is not binary.”

Ziri said trans and nonbinary people are often met with harassment or violence when their identification documents don’t match their gender expression. This can make anything from everyday purchases to getting carded at the bar more difficult for trans and nonbinary individuals, he said.

According to a 2015 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 34% of trans people in Illinois reported being harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave or assaulted when their gender presentation didn’t match their identity documents.

Stephanie Skora, associate executive director of the Brave Space Alliance, a black- and trans-led LGBTQ center on the South Side, praised the secretary of state’s office for supporting the new law, but urged it to update the technology sooner.

“Waiting four to five years to enact the new law is a bit silly, so if there’s anything the office can do sooner, I would encourage them to really try,” Skora said.

Skora said that while the new law will allow gender nonbinary people to validate themselves legally, she worries it could put them further at risk of being targeted, especially by law enforcement.

In May, the National Center for Transgender Equality released a report accusing the Chicago Police Department of failing to adequately protect trans people. Twenty-four other big-city police departments were named in the report.

“While including a gender-neutral option on identity documents is a step in the right direction, it would be better to eliminate gender from IDs altogether,” Skora said. “It’s not relevant anymore ever since the photo ID became prominent.”

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Non-binary and intersex activist and filmmaker Pidgeon Pagonis | Provided

Pidgeon Pagonis, a Chicago-based intersex activist and filmmaker, echoed Skora’s comments. Intersex is an umbrella term describing a broad range of natural variations in sex characteristics that don’t fit typical definitions of male and female.

“This is a major win for nonbinary people that should be celebrated and applauded, but I hope to see us move in a direction where sex and gender markers are removed from all identification,” Pagonis said.

Pagonis, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, also urged the secretary of state’s office to implement the gender-neutral option sooner.

“I can’t believe that the technology can’t be updated sooner,” they said.

Illinois is the 15th state to pass legislation allowing for gender-neutral options on state-issued IDs and driver’s licenses. Other states include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington.

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