Not every American identifies as simply male or female. And states are beginning to realize the importance of acknowledging these individuals, respectfully and legally.
Neither male nor female
Two groups of Americans have been fighting for legal documents that better represent their identity:
- Nonbinary individuals, who may consider themselves neither exclusively male nor exclusively female, or may experience their gender as both male and female. A nonbinary individual may or may not identify as transgender.
- Intersex individuals, who have nonconforming sexual anatomy. In other words, their biology does not meet society’s traditional definition of sex or gender. They may be born with genitalia that looks different, or they may discover at puberty that their internal anatomy is atypical.
Nonbinary and intersex individuals find it difficult to designate gender on a legal document that only offers choices of male or female.
“The laws and policies for gender markers on official documents vary state by state, resulting in a complicated patchwork of processes across the country,” says employment lawyer Mirande Valbrune. But across the nation, states are changing their ways.
In June 2017, Oregon, New York state, and the District of Columbia introduced a nonbinary “X” gender designation for driver’s licenses and ID cards. The District of Columbia quickly put this into practice, becoming the first place in the United States to offer gender-neutral legal documentation.
With the signing of SB 179 in October 2017, California residents were no longer required to choose “male” or “female” on ID documents. The law, which aims “to ensure intersex, transgender, and non-binary people have state-issued identification documents that provide full legal recognition of their accurate gender identity,” added a third, nonbinary gender marker on state birth certificates, identity cards, and driver’s licenses. It also made it easier for Californians to change a previous gender designation on state-issued documents by eliminating the need for a physician’s statement.
In Oregon, the enactment of HB 2673A has enabled transgender residents to change the gender identification on their birth certificate through a private process. Prior to January 2, 2018, these individuals had to endure a public court process, including a hearing in open court, to make such a change. Now, a transgender Oregonian can simply download a form from the internet and process the change privately by mailing it or visiting a state health office. HB 2673A is the first standalone transgender equality bill in Oregon, according to Basic Rights Oregon.
At a time when President Donald Trump seems determined to make life more difficult for those whose gender identify doesn’t align with their sex assignment at birth – banning transgender people from enlisting in the military, for example, or backing away from federal protections that allowed students to use the school bathroom that matches their gender identify – some states moving in the opposite direction. The momentum is there for other states to follow suit.