Oregon has become the first state in the US to allow a third gender option on licenses and identification cards, a major civil rights victory for non-binary people who identify as neither male nor female.
State officials adopted a new rule on Thursday that allows people to put an “X” marker on state IDs and driver’s licenses instead of the traditional “M” for male or “F” for female, a move that activists hope will spark reforms across the country that expand the legal recognition of gender-nonconforming people.
“This change in ID is a huge piece of validation for me,” said J Gibbons, a 26-year-old Portland resident who is non-binary and transgender and uses gender-neutral “they” pronouns. “The state of Oregon sees me for who I am. I don’t even think ‘excitement’ can capture all of my emotions about this change.”
The passage of the new policy at the state department of motor vehicles (DMV), which issues licenses and IDs, comes at a time of increasing mainstream acceptance of people who don’t fit into traditional gender roles – some of whom use the labels non-binary, genderqueer, gender-nonconforming or gender-fluid. It is a diverse group that can also include transgender people, whose gender identities are different than the ones assigned to them at birth, and intersex people, whose reproductive or sexual anatomies are not typically male or female.
The DMV in Oregon considered the shift in policy after Jamie Shupe, a non-binary resident, successfully petitioned a judge to recognize them as neither male nor female in an historic decision last year. Shupe’s court order compelled the DMV to examine its rules and find a way to add an “X” option, said an agency spokesperson, David House.
“This is a pretty small change,” he said, adding, “There was very little opposition.”
The change will go into effect in a few weeks, and residents can request to change their IDs to an X marker, House said. No doctor’s note is required.
Legal documents that recognize different gender identities, activists argue, can go a long way in educating the public and expanding rights for LGBTQI people. The IDs can also help people avoid discrimination and mistreatment given that when people have IDs that don’t match their gender presentation, they can be questioned and denied services.
Carly Mitchell testifying in support of proposed legislation for third gender option in California. Photograph: Courtesy of Carly Mitchell
“I want to just be me and not be constantly harassed,” said Carly Mitchell, a California resident who is non-binary and transgender. Mitchell, who also uses “they” pronouns, has testified in support of legislation in the California that would create a third gender marker for birth certificates, driver’s licenses and state IDs.
California often leads the nation in progressive laws, and if the most populous state in the US follows Oregon’s footsteps, activists hope it could have a ripple effect. An intersex person in California last year became the first in the US to have “intersex” noted on a passport.
Mitchell, 36, said they had been kicked out of gyms and harassed by police because they weren’t wearing a shirt. If they had an ID that showed they are non-binary, it could help them better navigate those situations. Mitchell noted that they’ve even faced discrimination in queer spaces where people have pressured them to identify as male or female.
“It feels like a sense of not really belonging anywhere and a sense of betrayal in my own community,” Mitchell said.
Dee Shull, a 44-year-old gender-fluid California resident. Photograph: Courtesy of Dee Shull
Surveys have found that people who show IDs that don’t match their identities regularly report facing harassment and in some cases physical violence.
“Our lives are very gendered and not having an ID that corresponds with your gender identity makes people unsafe,” said Nancy Haque, co-executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, a queer advocacy group that advocated for the new DMV rule.
Rain Emery Chamberlain, a non-binary California resident, said that the ID change could make it easier to apply for work and avoid incorrect dress codes at jobs. “It would allot a lot more opportunities for our gender to be validated.”
Dee Shull, a 44-year-old gender-fluid California resident, said it took them a long time to learn that there were alternative ways to identify other than male or female. When they discovered the term “gender-fluid”, they said, “it was like something clicked for me. This is the way I’ve been feeling and I have not had any language to express that.”
Having formal documents reflect that is a game-changer, Shull added. “I won’t be effectively lying anymore. If I can get my driver’s license fixed, that would actually put me over the moon.”
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