California Just Took A Major Step In Legally Recognizing A Third Gender

"Now we need the other 49 states to follow!"

The state of California just made a landmark decision for the rights of non-binary citizens. Over the weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 179, also known as the Gender Recognition Act, which allows residents of the state to choose a third gender option on state-issued driver's licenses, ID cards, and birth certificates, starting in 2019.

California is the first state in the country to offer such an option for residents who do no identify as male or female. As HuffPost points out, Oregon and Washington, D.C., have previously taken steps to recognize non-binary people. In Oregon, for example, the State Transportation Commission recently allowed residents to choose "X" under the gender category on their licenses and IDs. 

Similarly, last year Jamie Shupe became the first legally non-binary person in the country, thanks to an Oregon judge's ruling. However, California is the first state to pass legislation on the issue, as well as to offer the option on birth certificates. Similar steps have also been taken in countries such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

"As the LGBT community — but especially the trans community — is under assault in this country, California needs to go in the opposite direction and embrace the trans community and support the trans community and modernize these laws," state Sen. Scott Wiener, who co-authored the bill with Sen. Toni Atkins, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year.

"Society forces people into boxes & tells us who we're supposed to be. SB 179 helps people of all gender identities be their authentic selves," Wiener added on Twitter after Gov. Brown signed the legislation.

"I want to thank Governor Brown for recognizing how difficult it can be for our transgender, nonbinary and intersex family members, friends and neighbors when they don't have an ID that matches their gender presentation," Sen. Atkins said in a statement. "The Gender Recognition Act will eliminate unnecessary stress and anxiety for many Californians, and it exemplifies the leadership role that our state continues to take in LGBTQ civil rights."

According to The Hill, the new bill will also make it easier for residents to change the gender on their birth certificates. It eliminates the requirement for an individual to undergo treatment and provide a statement from their doctor to make the change. Gov. Brown also reportedly signed legislation to allow transgender people to change their name while incarcerated.

Hopefully this will lead to similar laws in other states, as well as from the federal government — which could affect such documents as passports and Social Security cards.

"California's model is more accurate, it helps eliminate unfairness and gender bias, and it helps lead the way for the rest of the country, including the federal government, which should regard California's ID documents as further support for changing discriminatory and unconstitutional national passport policy," Hayley Gorenberg of Lambda Legal told Bustle of the decision.

As USA Today reports, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that nearly one-third of respondents were "verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or assaulted" because the gender or name on their ID didn't match their "gender presentation." Legislation such as California's, therefore, can likely make a big difference in people's everyday lives.

Cover image via Shutterstock / Lindsay McLean.

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