Non-binary gender is affirmed in new legislation pending in states across the country

D.C. is the latest part of the United States to weigh a bill that would allow for a non-binary gender option.

CREDIT: iStock
CREDIT: iStock

The nation’s capital is poised to be the latest part of the United States to recognize the nuances within gender.

On Tuesday, D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau introduced a bill allowing for a non-binary gender option on city driver’s licenses. If the bill is passed, D.C. residents applying for licenses or identification cards will be able to choose between “F”, “M”, and “X” — allowing non-binary, genderqueer, and agender people to have an option that fits better.

“The District has always sought to be a safe and welcoming place for our LGBTQ community, and today we are continuing to deliver on that legacy,” Nadeau said in a statement. “Gender is a spectrum and some of our residents do not identify as male or female. Current licenses force residents to conform to genders that don’t accurately reflect their identity. This has not only a practical impact but also a deeply negative emotional and mental health impact. This bill changes District identification documents so they can accurately reflect the needs of our residents.”

Allowing for a non-binary option on identification cards is pretty revolutionary, according to Arli Christian, who serves as state policy counsel at the National Center for Transgender Equality.

“An ‘X’ gender marker allows individuals to have a more accurate marker,” Christian said, “but it also allows for more privacy. That’s really important, as well as the recognition that gender is a personal and private thing.”

D.C. isn’t alone. New York is also considering a similar bill. Assistant Speaker of the House Felix Ortiz introduced a bill on Monday that, much like the proposed bill in D.C., would allow state residents to identify as non-binary on driver’s licenses and identification cards.

Efforts in both cities are part of a recent wave of legislation across the country acknowledging the gender spectrum.

Non-binary people, who are sometimes transgender and sometimes completely outside of traditional gender categories, are relatively unused to seeing themselves acknowledged or represented. Heated clashes over “bathroom bills” in states like Texas and North Carolina have brought national attention to transgender issues, as has the Trump administration’s decision in February to roll back protections for transgender students. But media coverage of trans issues has still been centered on a binary view of gender: male and female, or man and woman.

Now, that seems to be changing.

Earlier this month, Oregon became the first state in the country to rule that residents could legally change their gender to “nonbinary”, after a retired U.S. army sergeant petitioned the state. Foster Noone, a 19-year-old Tulane University student who serves as a member of the national youth council for the Transgender Law Center, told the New York Times that Oregon’s decision was revolutionary for non-binary people. Many people act, Noone said, like “there are two different types of bodies and two types of genders, and that’s the way it’s been since the beginning of time, and that’s just not true.”

California has also been working on its own non-binary legislation. In January, state Sens. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced the California Gender Recognition Act, which would establish a non-binary gender option for official state documents and streamline the process of legally changing gender. At the time, Atkins, an out lesbian, argued that the legislation was crucial for her state. “It will keep California at the forefront of LGBTQ civil rights,” she said. The act has passed the California Senate and must now clear two state assembly committees.

While legislation in each area differs, it all fits into a larger movement toward challenging established norms and hierarchies. “This is all part of the broader recognition that gender is complicated. There are many people in our society who do not fit into stereotypes about gender,” Christian said.

In D.C., which has a higher percentage of self-identified LGBTQ individuals than any state in the country, that recognition has added significance.

“By adding a gender neutral option to driver licenses, [D.C.] takes a great step toward asserting the existence of non-binary people, and their right to feel affirmed in a place they call home,” Guillaume Bagal, president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), told ThinkProgress in an email.

Bagal also observed that the bill’s timing was notable. “We are especially grateful to see progress being made despite the Trump administration’s slew of attacks on our communities, and continued threats to gains made in LGBTQ and women’s rights,” he said.

Despite efforts to roll back the rights of gender minorities in multiple states and the White House, advocates are still heartened by the progress being made.

“We expect that this trend will continue,” Christian said. “It is important to see these states leading the way. I think as other states see that working, they’ll be able to follow suit.” Above all, Christian emphasized, efforts to acknowledge a spectrum of identities are opening people up to the idea that people, not policymakers or medical practitioners, know their genders best.

“Individuals themselves are the best suited to report their gender identity,” Christian said.