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Judge overturns Arkansas' ban on gender neutral driver's licenses

Make digital copies of important documents like your ID, birth certificate and insurance information.
LA Johnson/NPR
Arkansans will once again be allowed to put an "X" on their drivers license after a judge struck down a ban on the practice.

A ban on gender-neutral driver's licenses was reversed by an Arkansas judge on Wednesday. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Patricia James granted a request made by the American Civil Liberties Union in May. The DFA says they plan to move forward with the rule change anyway.

Previously, Arkansans could put an "X" on their licenses instead of “M'' or “F” to indicate male or female. Residents could also change the gender identification on their ID to correspond with the gender they better identify with. The state Department of Finance and Administration says fewer than 500 people were using either option.

Rule changes can only be granted in cases of “imminent peril.” DFA Secretary Jim Hudson told lawmakers that the policy created a “potential” for harm, but could not name an example of anyone who was harmed by the policy. The legislature agreed and voted to end both practices.

In May, the American Civil Liberties Union brought a suit against the DFA on behalf of five plaintiffs who were either transgender or nonbinary. The suit argued that there was no “imminent peril” to cause the rule change, arguing it violated the civil rights of their clients.

On Wednesday, the judge agreed. She issued a preliminary injunction to halt the rule change, but, as of early Thursday, has not yet issued a written ruling.

Jim Hudson, secretary for the DFA says they continue with the making the new policy permanent.

"This permanent rule was unaffected by today’s ruling," he said.

"DFA is proceeding with promulgating a permanent rule requiring that an individual’s gender on their state license or ID match the gender listed on their birth certificate. This permanent rule was unaffected by today’s ruling.

In a statement, ACLU of Arkansas Legal Director John Williams said he was happy with the ruling.

“This decision reaffirms the importance of due process and the necessity for public input in policy changes that significantly impact people’s lives,” he said.

“This decision means so much to me and countless others who have been living in fear and uncertainty because of this unjust policy,” said JaVon Hansen, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

This comes before a DFA hearing on the rule change, still scheduled for Friday.

Note: this was edited to add the statement by Jim Hudson.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.