SACRAMENTO, Calif. >> Californians who do not identify as male or female will have a third gender option on driver’s licenses and birth certificates under a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed.
SB179 makes California the first state in the country to offer the third gender marker on birth certificates for nonbinary people who want their personal documents to match their gender identity. Nonbinary is an umbrella term for people who do not consider themselves strictly male or female, but instead fall outside those gender norms.
The new law also applies to driver’s licenses and provides other reforms sought by LGBTQ groups, such as creating a process for parents of a transgender youth to apply to change the gender listed on their child’s birth certificate. The legislation was carried by state Sens. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco.
“It’s an emotionally wonderful thing,” Atkins said today from her Capitol office. “It’s like marriage equality when there was a feeling your government and community acknowledges who you are. You have the right to be who you are. This is that same feeling.”
The bill’s signing was announced minutes before a midnight Oct. 15 deadline and was one of 859 bills signed by Brown this year. Brown vetoed 118 bills. Atkins said she stayed up to see if Brown had signed the bill. Brown had not previously indicated whether he would, and Atkins said she “didn’t know where he would be on this.”
While most bills go into effect Jan. 1, the added gender option for driver’s licenses will be effective Jan. 1, 2019.
Tone Lee-Bias of Sacramento is eagerly awaiting that day. Lee-Bias, a nonbinary 20-year-old, said there is something heartening about having government documents reflect a person’s gender identity.
“I’ve always accepted myself and I’m open and proud of my identity, but I feel like having an ID that reflects my gender and who I am means that it’s not up for debate anymore,” Lee-Bias said. “It’s a boost of confidence to be validated and affirmed by people who were willing to listen to us.”
SB179 also removes a requirement under state law that a physician provide a sworn statement attesting to a gender change to have that reflected on identifying documents.
Atkins said that change helps those whose gender presentation does not match their identification documents, which “can be extremely stressful and lead to harassment” when a person is traveling or in other instances when ID needs to be shown. She said she knows three families with transgender children who have to undergo scrutiny each time they travel because their child’s identity documents do not match their appearance.
In July, Oregon became the first state in the country to allow its residents to mark their gender as “not specified” on driver’s licenses and identity cards. Instead of a M or F for male or female, the Oregon licenses have an X.
The Canadian province of Ontario also adopted a new policy this year that gives nonbinary people the option of listing X as their gender on licenses.
When California’s law goes into effect in 2019, those applying for or renewing their driver’s license can chose male, female or nonbinary. The bill does not say how the nonbinary option will be abbreviated, leaving that decision to state agencies, but it is likely to be listed as X or NB.
The third gender option on birth certificates will allow nonbinary people to make the change on their birth certificates as well.
The conservative California Family Council opposed the bill, saying the legislation “advances a lie; that being male or female, or no gender at all, is a choice each person has a right to make.”
Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, said the law makes a relatively simple change that will profoundly and positively impact the lives of nonbinary and transgender people.
“This is absolutely groundbreaking, Hayashi said. ”We are always being asked to show our identification at the airport, at banks and for nonbinary people and transgender people to go through life without identification that reflects who we are can be truly dangerous.“