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Protesters at state Capitol decry loss of gender neutral option on state IDs

This article was originally published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on March 26, 2024

About 40 people gathered on the steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday afternoon to protest a policy change that removed the gender-neutral "X" option from Arkansas IDs and requires individuals to update their birth certificate before issuing a gender marker change on their ID.

The policy change, which was incorporated into an emergency rule approved by the Legislative Council on March 15, won't affect existing IDs, which will remain valid until the license's expiration date, the state Department of Finance and Administration said in a March 12 news release.

"That's a big issue because it puts people in a situation that might affect their safety, their social well-being, their ability to cash checks, open bank accounts and travel," Joe Johnson, a spokesperson for Central Arkansas Pride, which organized the rally, said.

"It's going to create situations where it may put that transgender individual in a position where they have to be forced to out themselves, explain their life. And frankly, that's dehumanizing," Johnson continued. Before the rally's speeches began, Keon Anderson, the CEO of the Be Youuu organization, passed out pride flags to participants.

Be Youuu is, "the only transmasculine led organization of color in the State of Arkansas," according to Anderson.

"Our rights have been taken away as far as what they did [earlier this month]. ... So that's why we're here," Anderson said. "We want our rights back. I want [an ID] that fits my identity. Nobody should take that right away from us. It wasn't taken away from us at first, so why is it being taken away now?"

Multiple speakers active in supporting LGBTQIA+ rights addressed the crowd.

"The LGBT plus community, especially the transgender and nonbinary community, is under attack nearly every time these doors open," state House Democratic leader Tippi McCullough of Little Rock said, motioning toward the Capitol during her speech.

"You need to vote every time there is any kind of election. This is how we change things in Arkansas. It may seem that everyone here is against you, but there is a minority of us up here fighting for you," she said.

In the news release announcing the policy change, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "As long as I'm governor, Arkansas state government will not endorse nonsense."

Raheem White, a gender nonconforming individual and representative of the Strilite Foundation, Arkansas RAPPS, and Central Arkansas Harm Reduction, responded directly to the governor in their speech.

"Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders may have callously dared to assess our identities as nonsense, but I challenge her to confront the reality of our existence. ... There is nothing nonsensical about being true to oneself. ... This fight is not just about driver's license or identification cards," White said. "It is about the right of every individual to define themselves on their own terms."

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I have to make sure I get all my ID changed before I even come to visit

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