Gender Neutral Driver's Licenses Get Boost from Rutgers Alumna

Gender Neutral Driver's Licenses Get Boost from Rutgers Alumna

Washington D.C. is first jurisdiction in nation to offer non-binary gender option

Gender-neutral license
Photo: Courtesy of National Center for Transgender Equality

‘When your ID doesn’t match how you present, it can out you or result in verbal or physical violence. Having an ID that reflects who you are and how you identify can have a huge impact on how you move though the world.’
– LBGTQ advocate and Rutgers-Newark Law alumna, Elizabeth Ehret 

Proof of identification is required to work, vote, drive, buy a drink, apply for a mortgage, a loan or even a library card.

We regularly flash our IDs without much thought – unless you’re transgender.

LBGTQ advocate and Rutgers-Newark Law alumna, Elizabeth Ehret is among those working to change that.

“When your ID doesn’t match how you present, it can out you or result in verbal or physical violence,” said Ehret, who graduated in 2015 and works as an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow at Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C.  “Having an ID that reflects who you are and how you identify can have a huge impact on how you move though the world.”

But the process of changing your ID to match your outward identity can be demoralizing for the trans community, said Ehret. And those who identify as non-binary had to pick a gender – until now.

On June 26, Washington, D.C.’s Department of Motor Vehicles became the first in the nation to offer a driver’s license reading “X,” instead of “M” or “F” for those who identify as non-binary. D.C. also now allows the transgender community to use the name and gender they identify with without a third-party witness. It’s a milestone for the LGBTQ community, said Ehret, one she was proud to facilitate.

It started in February, when Ehret met a client through the Name and Gender Change project she directs for Whitman-Walker. The client had a request: to receive a non-binary gender marker on their D.C. license.

“It had been on our radar and something we’d been interested in working on,” she said. “When this client came to me, I thought this would be a great opportunity to work with the DMV.”

Elizabeth Ehret
Elizabeth Ehret is a 2015 Rutgers Newark-Law School gradutate.
Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Ehret
Ehret conferred with the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the director of the D.C. DMV, which she learned was already investigating a non-binary marker. Together, they crafted affirming language for the non-binary options on the DMV’s forms and policies. 

While part of this groundbreaking process, Ehret, sought to dissolve a demoralizing aspect of D.C. DMV’s name and gender change process, called “third-party attestation” that requires a witness to sign off on name and gender changes to state identifications, passports or social security cards.

“This is an issue that is a major barrier for trans and non-binary people,” said Ehret, who added that D.C. is the only jurisdiction in the country to switch from third-party to self-attestation. “You shouldn’t need someone to sign off on who you are as a person.”

Far from her first victory, Ehret has been championing LGBT causes since she was an undergraduate at The College of New Jersey, where the music performance major was studying for a career on the stage – not in the courts.  

“Ultimately, the dream was to be an opera star traveling the world,” said the Middletown resident. “But when I started school I also got involved in the LGBT organization on campus and doing advocacy work. I realized while I was passionate about music, what really lit my fire was activism.”

And as a member of the LGBT community herself, it felt natural for Ehret to dedicate herself to preventing others from experiencing discrimination. While at TCNJ she worked with administrators to create trans-affirming policies – including instituting gender neutral bathrooms and housing and allowing students to students to use their preferred name on their school ids.

After graduation, Ehret combined her love of the performing arts and activism with an internship as a grant writer with Boston’s The Theater Offensive. In her off hours, she volunteered with Mass Equality, working on the Transgender Anti-Discrimination law and campaign. Those experiences convinced her to return to school, this time to pursue a law degree.

“I came to realize that what the LGBT movement needed were attorneys,” she said. “We are trying to pass laws, but we didn’t have enough people focused on defending these laws.”

Once she started her school search, Rutgers quickly came to the fore as a public interest-oriented institution with a faculty focused on LGBT rights and research, including national expert Carlos Ball. The  Distinguished Professor of Law and Judge Frederick Lacey Faculty Scholar at Rutgers Law School-Newark mentored Ehret, and described her as a law student committed from day one to gaining the legal skills she needed to advocate on behalf of the LGBT community. The two keep in touch, updating each other about significant career moves and live events.

“At a time when there is considerable backlash against LGBT rights across the country, including President Trump's recent announcement that the military would again start discriminating against transgender service members, we need lawyers like Elizabeth more than ever,” said Ball. “Elizabeth represents the very best of the Rutgers Law School's commitment to public service.” 


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