HARRISBURG — Since first asking to be called by gender-neutral pronouns earlier this year, Kathiria Zorrilla has fielded a variety of questions from a multitude of sources about what it means to identify as nonbinary.
Zorrilla encounters questions from fellow students at Reading Area Community College, from colleagues at work and from community members met working as a volunteer for Sunrise Movement Berks.
And the questions are good, said Zorrilla, who prefers to be referred to as they, them or theirs, because they lead to conversations. And conversations will evetually lead to a greater understanding of what it means to identify as nonbinary.
"I would rather answer questions than be misgendered," they said. "Having to constantly correct people about my pronouns is mentally and physically draining. It makes me feel unwelcome and unaccepted."
So, for Zorrilla, PennDOT's decision to begin offering a gender-neutral option for residents to put on their licenses in 2020 felt like a step in the right direction.
"This is a very exciting change," they said. "It may seem like an insignificant thing for a lot of people, but for the people in the LGBTQ community who understand this it will be a very big deal."
The state will join the ranks of about a dozen other states already offering an "X" option for nonbinary individuals in addition to the standard "M" or "F" marker currently found on a license.
Michelle Dech, executive director of the LGBT Center of Greater Reading, said the decision to offer an option for nonbinary individuals is incredibly important on many levels. The most important being that it validates and affirms gender identity.
"A third of all transgender people that have shown their ID to law enforcement, to new employers or to someone who worked at a bar with their name or gender that did not match their gender presentation were verbally harassed, denied service or were assaulted," she said, apparently referring to a 2015 survey of transgendered people conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Dech said that many in the nonbinary, gender diverse community suffer depression and anxiety as a result of having their gender misidentified and often referred to by their birth pronouns, not their preferred pronouns.
So, the new license option is important, Dech said.
"What seems like an insignificant change for so many is a monumental change for those seeking acceptance and affirmation," she said.
Alexis Campbell, a PennDOT spokeswoman, said the agency is working with the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs to craft an official policy moving forward. She said the goal is to ensure that the implementation of the policy is not overly cumbersome for those who work at license centers as well as those who wish to take advantage of the new gender option.
"Basically, we just wanted to make sure our license was inclusive and that it accurately represents our customers," she said. "We have been talking about making this an option for awhile but we need to make changes to the entire system."
Campbell said that while the state has offered a nonbinary option to customers over the past several years, the process can be complicated and take more time to complete. The process now, she explained, requires that a worker at a license center call the central PennDOT office to request the change.
She said 31 customers in Pennsylvania have gone through that process.
"Right now, we have a manual workaround," she said. "We're in the process of deploying a systematic change where our staff members can directly give the designation with a simple key stroke."
Campbell said the state's vehicle code provides authority for PennDOT to make the change, and officials do not believe it will present any problems in terms of compliance with federal REAL ID regulations.
"There's no reason why our licenses can't reflect every customer," she said. "I mean, it's 2019. This is really just where we're headed. And we know it means a lot to people."