California Becomes First State to Offer Non-Binary Option

By Logan Little

It will be possible to identify as gender non-binary on California driver’s licenses and state documents, starting in 2019. Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 179 or the Gender Recognition Act on Sunday October 15th a few minutes before his midnight deadline. In the past, Californians were required to get a physical examination and a sworn statement from a physician demonstrating they had transitioned genders before they could change their birth certificates. This law does away with prior regulations regarding gender identification  and creates a new process for minors under 18 to apply for a gender change on their birth certificates. The Trans Student Educational Resource defines non-binary as a “Preferred umbrella term for all genders other than female/male or woman/man.”

California Senator Wiener (D) who with Senator Toni Atkins (D) wrote and campaigned for the Gender Recognition Act stated after the bill’s passage, “With Governor Brown’s signature on this bill, transgender and nonbinary people will now be able to be who they are, not who society forces them to be. For too long society has forced people into gender boxes. It’s time for government to get out of the way and let people live their lives authentically as who they are. I am proud to have partnered with Senator Atkins to pass the Gender Recognition Act, and I look forward to continuing our fight for LGBT equality.”

It’s estimated that system updates will cost around $888,000, but many lgbt activists think that it is well worth the cost. Individuals who do not have the same physical presentation (attire, mannerisms, physical features) associated with sex stated on their driver’s licence can be harassed or scrutinised when they present their ID’s to law enforcement, government officials, or everyday citizens. In a 2015 national survey of 25,000 transgender people, only 11 percent reported that all their identification documents had their name and gender consistent with their gender identity, and one-third of respondents who showed an ID with a gender marker that did not match their appearance reported being verbally harassed, denied services or assaulted.

Dean Willer, president of the GSA, commented, “There’s way more non-binary people than people realize, and it’s nice to see that people are willing to change.

The bill faced little opposition from the public throughout the legislative processes; however, the California Family Council did testify against it early April saying, “The California Family Council believes government documents need to reflect biological facts for identification and medical purposes. Secondly, we believe this bill advances a falsehood; that being male or female, or no gender at all is a choice each person must make, not a fact to celebrate and accept. Laws like this will simply erase any meaningful gender definitions, if being male or female is completely divorced from biological facts.”

Nonetheless, many activists argue that having more diverse gender options on medical forms will actually aid making medical care more accurate and helpful.  Willer stated, “There’s an argument that it’s necessary medically, but even biologically speaking people’s sex varies greatly, and if your doctor needs to know that about you they’re already tailoring it [ their care] towards you and should have more in depth information.”

While Oregon and Washington D.C also “X” or non-binary option on driver’s licenses, California is the first state to recognise a third gender on state documents like birth certificates. New York also is currently attempting to pass similar legislation. Willer is hopeful that the trend will continue throughout the country or the very least be ultimately decided by the Supreme Court,  “At one point it might turn into something like gay marriage where it’s not a states rights issue but a human rights issue.”