Oregon just became the first state in the U.S. to offer a gender-neutral option on driver’s licenses and IDs, a huge win for individuals in the state who do not identify as male or female.The new Department of Motor Vehicles policy, enacted Thursday, allows individuals to identify as “X” rather than “M” or “F” — a move that LGBTQ advocates say will serve to validate the identities of transgender, genderqueer, and intersex Oregonians.
The policy comes at a time when the U.S. is becoming more receptive to the idea that gender identity — whether you feel yourself to be male, female, or other — is about self-perception, and distinct from the sex you’re assigned at birth. In a 2015 poll by Human Rights Campaign/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, 22 percent of respondents said they personally knew or worked with a transgender person — up 17 percent from the previous year — and knowing someone transgender meant a corresponding increase in favorable feelings toward transgender people in general.“Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else,” according to the American Psychological Association. The American Medical Association’s House of Delegates passed a resolution just this week calling for improved public education about the “medical spectrum of gender identity,” necessary because gender is “incompletely understood as a binary selection.”But while acceptance of these ideas is growing in some pockets of the country, a pushback is emerging in other areas, as evident in the recent proliferation of bills seeking to curb transgender rights (legislators in 16 states introduced bills this year to restrict bathroom access for trans students).Oregon is among the handful of states in the vanguard of transgender and LGBTQ rights.Earlier this month, Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill making it easier for transgender residents to shield changes they make to their birth certificates, with the aim of mitigating potential discrimination from employers or landlords, making Oregon the second state (after California) to pass such a law. Brown, who is openly bisexual, is the nation’s first openly LGBTQ governor.Last year, a federal judge in Oregon in a landmark decision ruled that Jamie Shupe, a Portland Army veteran, could legally identify as neither male nor female.According to the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles, an estimated 20,000 Oregonians identify as transgender — about 0.65 percent of the state’s overall population, making it the state with the seventh-highest trans population in the country.A survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that out of nearly 28,000 respondents, 35 percent identified as neither male nor female.