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Should Vermont Add A Third Gender Option For Driver's Licenses?

Howard Weiss-Tisman
Melanie Waldbrise is a member of the UVM police force and she attended a meeting of the Law Enforcment Advisory Board in Waterbury. The board discussed the idea of adding a third gender option on the state's driver's license.

The Department of Motor Vehicles is considering adding a third option for people when they choose a gender to appear on their driver's license.

Members of the state's LGBTQ community say there should be a third gender option for people who identify as "non-binary."

Department of Motor Vehicle Commissioner Robert Ide says the computer that runs the state's license system is about 30 years old and there is no option currently to make the change.

Work is underway to replace the outdated software and once the new system is in place Ide says the state could include the third gender option.

"This issue is something that has been part of the national conversation of my national trade group," says Ide. "Our RFP will call for a response that gives us three options. Those options would be  'M' for male, 'F' for female, or 'X' for 'do not wish to disclose.'"

It is up to the commissioner to make the change, and he can do it without legislation or a public rulemaking process.

But Ide says he is still seeking input, and so discussions are being held to see if Vermont is ready to embrace the change on one of the state's most widely used official documents.

The Law Enforcement Advisory Board meets throughout the year whenever there's an issue that affects Vermont's sheriff's departments and municipal and state police, and the panel met this week to discuss the issue.

Any traffic stop starts with asking the operator for a driver's license, and so law enforcement definitely has a role to play in helping make this decision.

And at this point, they're not yet ready to get on board, according to Jennifer Morrison, Colchester's Chief of Police and the representative for the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police at the Law Enforcement Advisory Board meetings.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Robert Ide is Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Ide says he supports adding a third option for gender, but that he was still gathering input from people around the state on the possible change.

"In polling our membership there were some very mixed opinions," Morrison said at the meeting. "I don't think I can strongly say that there is an answer from our group."

Morrison doesn't think gender should have any role to play when a cop stops a vehicle.

But since this in uncharted territory Morrison says the state's police chiefs will be looking for more information before taking a position.

"I can't articulate any doomsday prediction of what would happen if a third option were selected," she said. "I also can't anticipate if there would be negative impacts or positive impacts. So at this point I think we're neutral on the topic and willing to hear more about it."

"For the small amount of Vermonters that it would impact, it's going to be absolutely critical. Having that marker on your license that coincides with your identity is huge for personal validity of your own identity." — Melanie Waldbrise, officer with the UVM police force

Melanie Waldbrise is an officer with the University of Vermont police force, and she's a transgender woman.

She says there probably aren't a lot of people in Vermont who would choose that third option on the license form. But for those who do, and who might be struggling to come to terms with their identity, Waldbrise says it makes a difference.

"For the small amount of Vermonters that it would impact, it's going to be absolutely critical," she says. "Having that marker on your license that coincides with your identity is huge for personal validity of your own identity."

Waldbrise works with the LGBTQ community on the UVM campus, and she says offering this third option is one more way of saying that this is a state that takes the lead on issues that are important to young people.

"Vermont's a very progressive state, it's a very welcoming state for the LGBT population," Waldbrise says. "We need to send a message to the LGBT community, and the gender nonconforming community,  that we recognize you, that you're not invisible to us and that you have a place here in Vermont."

If Vermont moves ahead it would be the third jurisdiction to do so. Oregon and Washington D.C.both added a third gender option earlier this year.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state. 
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