BOISE — The Idaho Transportation Department this week agreed to new regulations allowing transgender drivers to change the sex designation on their driver's licenses without a note from a surgeon, after two people complained that previous policy violated their civil rights.
In April 2011, the state highway agency began requiring a signed surgeon's note signifying the individual "had undergone a complete surgical change of gender.''
Early this year, two people said they were blocked from getting their driver's licenses, based on this policy.
Through the American Civil Liberties Union, they complained this was not only an invasion of their privacy but also an arbitrary requirement, since only a fraction of people undergoing a gender transformation do so through a surgical intervention, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
The agency will now require a court order or affidavit from a doctor attesting to a gender change, according to a policy signed by director Brian Ness on Monday.
"We're glad that the state has recognized the important and legitimate needs of transgender Idahoans,'' said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the ACLU of Idaho. "All Idahoans should be able to get a driver's license that correctly reflects who they are without disclosing sensitive personal information completely unrelated to their ability to drive. The state did the right thing in updating its policy.''
The agency said officials would be available to discuss the new regulation late Tuesday afternoon.
The ACLU said that people who are transitioning to a different gender say a driver's license reflecting the previous gender creates the potential for "outing'' in situations where it's necessary to show proof of identity.
That's not only an unwarranted privacy intrusion, Hopkins said, but could create personal safety problems. In addition, many people who change their gender designation undergo only hormone treatments, not surgery, which is expensive and often unnecessary to allow for a person to live within their identity.
"What you have is a state agency basically setting a medical standard for something that isn't a medical standard,'' said Hopkins, of the previous regulation. "These are medical decisions that are made between a patient and physician or medical care giver.''
This issue has emerged elsewhere, too.
A lawsuit brought by the ACLU prompted Alaska to change its licensing rules in 2012. There, the group also worked with Alaska's Division of Motor Vehicles on new regulations that require a licensed medical provider to certify that the individual seeking a license has been in the provider's care that the change is expected to be permanent.
States generally require a person seeking to change gender designation on a driver's license to provide documentation from a qualified doctor or therapist, but not a surgeon.
Idaho's neighbor to the east, Wyoming, still requires those seeking such a change to provide proof of surgery from a doctor.
A Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman, Dave Kingham, recalled a challenge to its rule several years ago. He said it was resolved and there are no such objections pending in his agency's licensing division.
Wyoming ACLU's executive director, Linda Burt, said her organization received a complaint about the rule in recent years. It was resolved, resulting in the individual receiving a license with the appropriate gender designation.
"We're always open to receiving those kinds of complaints,'' Burt said. "But as far as ... any legislative changes, we haven't done that.''