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California Becomes First State to Introduce Gender-Neutral Birth Certificates

The new law also makes it easier for residents to legally change their sex designation

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California has become the first state to allow its residents to opt for a gender-neutral designation on birth certificates. As Christian Caron of the New York Times reports, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the “Gender Recognition Act,” into law on Monday that recognizes a third, non-binary gender category for Californians who do not identify as either male or female.

The new leglislation also makes it easier for individuals to change their gender on birth certificates—a process that previously involved obtaining a court order or submitting proof of clinical treatments for gender transition. Once the law is implemented in 2018, residents will simply have to apply for the gender change and submit an affidavit stating that the request has not been made for fraudulent purposes, Taryn Luna of the Sacramento Bee reports.

Additionally, the law requires California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to allow residents to select a third, non-binary options on driver’s licenses. In June of this year, Oregon became the first state to offer a gender-neutral option for licenses, and Washington, D.C.. followed suit later that month.

California’s Gender Recognition Act defines non-binary as an “umbrella term for people with gender identities that fall somewhere outside of the traditional conceptions of strictly either female or male”—a diverse group that includes but isn't limited to transgender and intersex individuals.

Some advocates say that allowing a third gender option on birth certificates and state I.D.s can help prevent people from facing questioning and discrimination because their legal documents do not match their gender presentation. A 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, in fact, found that nearly one third of respondents (32 percent) who showed an ID with a name or gender that did not align with their external presentation had experienced verbal harassment, denial of services and benefits, and even physical assault.

Back in February, A. T. Furuya, a 35-year-old transgender youth advocate from California, became one of the first people in the United States to legally change their gender to “non-binary.” A. T. tells Caron of the Times that California’s implementation of gender-neutral state documentation will protect non-binary individuals from discriminatory situations in doctor’s offices and at work.

“They don’t get to decide for you based on what you’re assigned at birth,” A. T. says. “Someone can go into a new job as non-binary and have paperwork to back that up.”

At least one other state may soon introduce similar legislation. Washington state’s Department of Health recently proposed adding a non-binary gender option to birth certificates, and is currently evaluating public comments on the draft rule.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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