Oregon Thinks Outside the (M/F) Box and Becomes First State to Allow Gender Neutral Marker on State IDs

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June 15, 2017

There’s a little more truth and justice in the world today, after Oregon officials have agreed that in addition to “M” for male and “F” for female, Oregonians can now choose “X” on state-issued driver licenses, driver permits or identification cards — a third option to indicate that the identification-holder’s gender is not specified.

Last month Lambda Legal championed the X gender marker in our official comments to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Lambda Legal works to break gender binaries and stereotypes that limit any of us based on ideas about what our gender should be or should mean. Many members of our communities who are intersex or transgender neatly fit an M/F box choice — but many don’t. The consequences they experience when denied identification that accurately reflects their nonbinary genders go way beyond inconvenience.

As we wrote, “Saddled with identification that does not reflect who they are, people with nonbinary genders may be targeted for discrimination, harassment and violence. Their identification frequently cues incursions into their privacy when they are perceived not to ‘match’ the gender markers on their identification, and they endure insults and psychological trauma that could largely be averted if they had an option to use a gender marker that does not contradict who they are.”

In national surveys people who have to present ID that does not match their gender identity or expression frequently report being harassed and are sometimes attacked or assaulted. Encounters with police, hospital staff, employers, airport staff, bank tellers — really anyone checking identification in the ordinary course of life — often take on threatening dimensions when our ID misrepresents our gender.

When the government mandates that gender must be male or female only, the authorities perpetuate a system that psychologically and physically harms people with nonbinary genders.

If you’ve followed Lambda Legal’s flagship intersex rights case on behalf of our client Dana Alix Zzyym, you know that “intersex” is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural variations of sex characteristics that do not fit typical notions of bodies or chromosomes designated “male” or “female.”

In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth, while in others they are not apparent until puberty. Some variations may not be visibly apparent at all. Experts estimate that at least 1 in every 2,000 people have intersex traits.

As we’ve explained in our case, when Dana was born, their birth certificate was initially left blank. By age five, Dana had been subjected to several irreversible, invasive, painful and medically unnecessary surgeries designed to make Dana’s body conform to binary-only sex stereotypes. As is common, the surgeries failed and caused permanent scarring and damage. None of the surgeries Dana underwent altered (or even fully disguised) Dana’s intersex nature.

In 2015, Lambda Legal sued the State Department for denying Dana a U.S. passport solely because Dana can’t accurately check M or F.

We’re fighting for Dana because the United States government has locked our client, a disabled Navy veteran, into the country — even though the X gender marker Oregon will now use conforms to the International Civil Aviation Organization standards for travel documents, and the U.S. accepts passports from other countries that allow X gender markers in the passports they issue.

As we told the state of Oregon, forcing a person whose gender is nonbinary to use an M/F identity document “subverts rather than promotes accuracy.” Presenting identification that doesn’t accurately reflect your gender can trigger invasions of privacy, prejudice, stigma, violence and discrimination. The X fixes that for Oregonians.

Kudos to Oregon’s authorities for doing the right thing. Lambda Legal is proud to have contributed to this particularly important episode of the X Files.