Oregon Court Recognizes 'Non-Binary' as a Gender

by | June 13, 2016

By Casey Parks

An Oregon judge ruled Friday that a transgender person can legally change their sex to "non-binary" rather than male or female in what legal experts believe is a first in the United States.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Amy Holmes Hehn legally changed 52-year-old Jamie Shupe's sex from "female" to non-binary.

Nancy Haque, a co-executive director for Basic Rights Oregon, called the ruling a "momentous day for genderqueer Oregonians."

"It's really exciting for the courts to actually recognize what we know to be true: gender is a spectrum," Haque said. "Some people don't identify as male or female."

Shupe, an Army veteran who retired in 2000 a sergeant first class, began transitioning in 2013 while living in Pittsburg. Shupe knew then that neither male nor female fit. Shupe chose "Jamie" as a new first name primarily because it is a gender-neutral name. Shupe prefers to be called "Jamie," rather than by a pronoun.

"I was assigned male at birth due to biology," Shupe said. "I'm stuck with that for life. My gender identity is definitely feminine. My gender identity has never been male, but I feel like I have to own up to my male biology. Being non-binary allows me to do that. I'm a mixture of both. I consider myself as a third sex."

But female or male were the only legal options Shupe saw then. Shupe chose female, but female never felt right. In April, Shupe and lawyer Lake Perriguey filed a petition with the Oregon court to legally change Shupe's sex.

Oregon law allows a court to change a person's legal sex if a judge determines the person has undergone surgical, hormonal or other treatment related to a gender transition. The law does not require a note from a doctor.

Shupe brought letters from Oregon Health & Science University, as well as the Veterans Affairs hospital, anyway.

"The sexual reassignment has been completed," Hehn wrote in the ruling. "No person has shown cause why the requested General Judgment should not be granted."

Officials at the national Transgender Law Center said they are unaware of any similar court victories in the United States. A high court in France last year allowed a resident to register as gender neutral.

"A growing number of countries already recognize nonbinary genders, but as far as we know this is the first ruling of its kind in the U.S.," Legal Director Ilona Turner said in a written statement. "Other states and agencies should consider following suit to ensure that nonbinary members of our community have access to identity documents that reflect who they are, just like everyone else."

But, Haque said, there is still work to be done. Basic Rights Oregon is working with "public and private systems" across the state to offer people designations beyond male or female. Oregonians cannot list "non-binary" on a driver's license or state-issued identification card, for instance. Others have been denied medical services, Haque said, because their gender identities don't conform to existing norms.

"It's a huge barrier to being able to live your life, to having a driver license, to employment, to having records about your life, transcripts, all of those things," Haque said. "In all the ways our lives are gendered in ways they frankly don't have to be, it can be a barrier for people whose identities aren't easily put in a box."

Haque said her organization increasingly hears from non-binary people. Last month, the Gresham-Barlow School District agreed to build gender-neutral bathrooms and pay an elementary school teacher $60,000 after the non-binary teacher complained of more than a year of harassment from coworkers after asking to be called "they" rather than "he" or "she."

Shupe said Friday's win was "liberating."

"I'm not under pressure anymore to conform to either thing," Shupe said.

(c)2016 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)