For the first time in state history, California will legally recognize a third gender option for residents who do not identify as male or female next year.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the “Gender Recognition Act” on Sunday to make it easier for people to change gender on state identification and birth certificates, while establishing a “nonbinary” designation.
The law defines nonbinary as an “umbrella term for people with gender identities that fall somewhere outside of the traditional conceptions of strictly either female or male,” including but not limited to some transgender individuals and those born with intersex traits.
Advocates say the measure expands rights for the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community by wiping out the need for a court order or proof of clinical treatment to apply for gender changes.
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Under the bill, the state registrar is required to issue a new birth certificate to California natives to reflect a gender change if someone applies and submits an affidavit attesting that the request is not for any fraudulent purpose. The measure, Senate Bill 179, also calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles to allow applicants for a driver’s license or identification card to choose a gender category of female, male or nonbinary.
Jody Herman, an expert on gender identity law and policy for the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said Oregon, Washington, D.C., Australia, New Zealand, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Thailand and parts of Canada already offer some form of legal recognition of a third nonconforming gender.
Thirty-one percent of the 27,700 participants in a 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey identified as nonbinary.
The report found that nearly one-third of all participants had negative experiences when showing an ID with a name or gender that did not match the gender they physically present. One-quarter said they were verbally harassed. Roughly 16 percent said they were denied services or benefits and 9 percent were asked to leave. Two percent reported that they were assaulted or attacked.
Herman said it’s unclear if a nonbinary gender option on an ID will help alleviate some of those problems. Nonetheless, action in California will likely propel other states to follow.
“California is a large state and if we can make these changes to our administrative systems, then certainly other states are capable of doing that,” Herman said. “As gender identities continue to expand and our concepts of gender continue to expand, governments are going to have to grapple with it and figure out how to be responsive to the way people understand themselves and live their lives.”
One “pro-family” group blasted the new law.
“This new law calls transsexuality good, when science, health, logic and love inform us it’s bad,” said Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com.” “Pushing so-called ‘nonbinary’ upon 15-year-olds applying for a learner’s permit or 16-year-olds getting their drivers’ licenses tells them a big lie about sex. It’s an unchangeable law of Nature that you’re male if you’ve inherited a Y chromosome from your father; if not, you’re female … Now that Governor Brown has signed this illogical bill, parents will have to work even harder to teach their children the reliable facts of life.”