Under the guise of a legislative emergency, ALC members took up an administrative issue that is neither substantive nor urgent — but will hurt LGBTQ Arkansans.

Earlier this week, Gov. Sanders announced that non-binary people will no longer have the option to mark “X” as their gender on driver’s licenses.

The non-binary X has been available to ID holders for the past 14 years, and just over 500 Arkansans use the designation on their licenses.

Today the Department of Finance and Administration officials claimed that the public is under “imminent peril” and risk because of the X designation. The “imminent peril” designation is important; under Arkansas law, emergency rules can only be approved if a threat to public safety exists. However, officials admitted that in the last decade and a half, no public safety issue has been attributed to a non-binary person’s driver’s license. We sure don’t see any “imminent peril” and DFA didn’t prove any.

If you want to see a play-by-play breakdown of the meeting, here’s our live thread.

So why the out-of-nowhere, fervent push to enforce a policy that requires trans and non-binary individuals to adhere strictly to their birth gender on their driver’s licenses?

The answer, it seems, lies not in the necessity of the policy itself, but rather in the murky waters of political distraction and targeting of Arkansas’s most marginalized communities.

The Why

The intent behind anti-trans policies stems from a combination of ideological beliefs, misconceptions, and political opportunism.

In Arkansas, an extremist but vocal segment that includes elected leaders view gender identity through a narrow lens that’s rooted in traditional understandings of sex and gender roles. For the extreme right, enforcing strict adherence to birth gender markers is a way to resist perceived challenges to traditional values.

Some politicians may see targeting trans and non-binary individuals as a means of appealing to their base or garnering political support. By championing policies that restrict the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ individuals, Sanders and Co. seek to solidify their standing within extremist conservative constituencies and advance a broader, Trump-endorsed political agenda that trample on individual rights.

Let’s break it down.

Creating a Culture-War Distraction

As discussions unfolded within today’s ALC Executive Subcommittee, it was clear that the “urgency” behind the policy does not stem from any imminent peril or pressing need.

Rather, DFA officials and some ARleg members used driver’s licenses as a convenient distraction from the urgent issues facing everyday Arkansas. By directing attention towards the gender markers on driver’s licenses, Sanders hopes to steer public discourse away from topics that warrant actual scrutiny, like legislative (in)efficiency, executive branch accountability, and the horrific maternal mortality rate.

We’re also thinking about the fact the legislative audit of her office’s spending is supposed to drop soon, so any news that distracts from a likely-disastrous audit is good news in her book.

Targeting Trans and Non-Binary Individuals

Despite claims of ensuring accuracy for law enforcement purposes, the underlying message of this policy is clear: trans and non-binary individuals are being singled out as threats to the public.

The insistence on enforcing birth gender markers disregards the lived experiences and identities of these individuals, reducing them to anomalies to be regulated and controlled instead of folks who deserve privacy and the right to live their lives as they see fit.

Today’s meeting is a stark reminder of the systemic discrimination and erasure faced by LGBTQ+ communities who simply seek to live their lives authentically and without undue scrutiny.

Avoiding Legislative Accountability

We can’t ignore the irony of legislators spending valuable time and resources debating a policy that lacks urgency or merit.

It’s evident that this rush to enforce outdated regulations serves a broader purpose: to keep Arkansans from questioning the priorities of our elected officials. By focusing on divisive social issues, legislators can sidestep accountability for more substantive matters, effectively dodging scrutiny of their own effectiveness and priorities.

The policy mandating trans and non-binary individuals to conform to their birth gender on driver’s licenses is not just about bureaucratic procedure; it’s a manifestation of deeper societal tensions and political maneuvering.

Today’s distasteful ALC meeting is a reminder that, even in supposedly mundane matters of Arkansas governance, marginalized communities remain the number one target for discrimination and legislative scapegoating.