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 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 were blocked from getting their driver's licenses.
Through the American Civil Liberties Union, they complained this was an invasion of their privacy as well as an arbitrary requirement, since only a fraction of people undergoing a gender transformation do so through surgical intervention.
Idaho's agency will now require a court order or doctor's affidavit attesting to a gender change, according to a policy director Brian Ness signed Monday. That's similar to requirements in most states.
Erika Falls, one of the two people who complained, has been without a driver's license since February after having it revoked.
A student at Boise State University, Falls said losing her license was an enormous inconvenience: Her partner had to take her to class and applying for jobs became a hassle. And simply sticking with her old Idaho driver's license with a male gender marker on it was out of the question, because it put her personal safety in jeopardy, she said.
"It was scary, going out and handing my ID to someone, and having that male marker," Falls said. "They see the male marker, I don't necessarily know them, or trust them. It's very dangerous."
She finally received her temporary license Tuesday.
The other person, Andrew Geske, received his temporary license with a male gender marker in January, only to receive an ITD revocation letter shortly thereafter, on grounds he had submitted no surgical proof.
Geske, also a BSU student, said he didn't have the luxury of going without a license — he's a caregiver for a family member — and he re-applied for a license as a female.
With this week's change, he plans to re-apply again Wednesday.
"It's major brownie points for personal liberties," Geske said. "It's really encouraging that even in a state with a fairly conservative Legislature and a long history of pretty conservative policies, all it took was sitting down and having an informative conversation to secure rights for a group that's pretty thoroughly marginalized across the board. That just felt good."
On average, ITD receives up to six requests annually to change gender markers on driver's licenses.
Until 2011, the agency required only a doctor's affidavit.
The agency began demanding a surgeon's note that April after state licensing officials at the time decided applicants were providing insufficient information about their gender transformation and more details were needed.
Interviewed Tuesday, Division of Motor Vehicles administrator Alan Frew said his agency now agrees with the ACLU — that it went too far.
"We want to be out of the business of determining gender at our DMVs," Frew said. "We felt this policy was much more fair and far less invasive."
The ACLU said 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.
Consequently, ITD's 2011 policy was not only a privacy invasion but also an inappropriate medical standard, said Idaho ACLU Executive Director Monica Hopkins.
"These are medical decisions that are made between a patient and physician or medical care giver," Hopkins said.
While states generally don't demand surgical documentation, this issue has emerged elsewhere.
A lawsuit brought by the ACLU prompted Alaska to change its licensing rules in 2012.
And Idaho's neighbor to the east, Wyoming, still requires those seeking such a change provide proof of surgery.
Wyoming ACLU's executive director, Linda Burt, said her organization received one complaint in recent years.
It was resolved, she said, 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."
A Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman, Dave Kingham, said there are no pending complaints.