Californians who don’t identify themselves as male or female will soon be able to get a gender-neutral birth certificate.
Until now, people who wanted to obtain a nonbinary gender designation had to get a physician’s affidavit stating that they had undergone treatment for the purpose of gender transition. That’s what A.T. Furuya, a 35-year-old advocate for transgender youth at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, had to do to become one of the first people in the country to obtain a legally designated gender that is neither male nor female.
The court papers resolving that ordeal in February prompted tears.
"I was shocked," Furuya said. "I was like, ‘Oh my god, this just happened.’"
The physician letters have become a thing of the past in California. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Monday that simplifies the process, and provides nonbinary and intersex people with the ability to request a new birth certificate with a third, nonbinary category. It is the first state to offer such an option.
Those who define themselves as nonbinary consider themselves neither male nor female, whereas those who are intersex have atypical sexual anatomy. Both groups have long sought legal documents that represent their identity.
The California law, SB 179, which was written by two Democratic state senators, Toni G. Atkins and Scott D. Wiener, goes into effect starting in 2018.
Oregon and Washington, D.C., have recently offered residents gender-neutral options on driver’s licenses, and the Washington State Department of Health is planning to hold a public hearing this year on the inclusion of a nonbinary option on birth certificates, the public radio station KUOW reported.
For Furuya, having gender-neutral state-issued documentation means no longer being told by doctors or employers that the gender originally indicated on a birth certificate is all that matters.
"They don’t get to decide for you based on what you’re assigned at birth," Furuya said. "Someone can go into a new job as nonbinary and have paperwork to back that up, and there’s no way for the employer to know."
The legislation has faced some resistance. One conservative group expressed concerns that the new law, which eliminates the need for a physician’s letter in support of a gender transition, could lead to identity fraud.
And the California Family Council said the inclusion of a third gender on state documents would create the need for nonbinary sports teams at public schools, at a great expense.
In an opinion article published in the San Diego Union-Tribune in July, the group’s president, Jonathan Keller, warned that if the law were enacted, "California’s nearly 150 public colleges and universities, and all 10,453 public schools would be required to provide not only male and female athletic teams and facilities but nonbinary ones as well," to comply with the Title IX federal civil rights law.
But legal experts and supporters reject that claim.
"It’s a surprising argument to hear because it’s not as if the Department of Education is increasing its enforcement of Title IX as a protector of transgender civil rights," Erin E. Buzuvis, a law professor at Western New England University, said in a phone interview. "The regulations are clearly written with the gender binary in mind."
Kristine E. Newhall, an assistant professor of kinesiology at SUNY Cortland, agreed.
The NCAA doesn’t regulate gender identity for the purposes of being on a team, Newhall said. They use biological markers instead.
"It’s not how you identify in terms of your gender," she said. "You can have that N on your license, and the NCAA doesn’t care about that. They care about whether you’re on hormones or not."