A new bill in New York City will soon allow non-binary people born in the five boroughs to obtain a gender-neutral “X” on their birth certificates.
Cleared by the City Council this Wednesday, Introduction 954-A now heads to Mayor Bill de Blasio—who announced the legislation alongside City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in June—for a formal signature.
The bill makes it easier for all transgender people born in New York City to change the sex listed on their birth certificates, but it also specifically permits an “X” option for those who identify as neither strictly male or strictly female.
In a statement to the press, Speaker Johnson said that the legislation “will make New York birth certificates more inclusive for all and will send a powerful signal to the world that New York City government works for everyone.”
From a national perspective, the bill is significant because it proves that the movement to gain formal recognition for non-binary genders is making further inroads on the East Coast of the United States, after having already found success in Oregon, California, and Washington State.
By the start of this year, as The Daily Beast previously reported, every West Coast state offered some form of non-binary gender marker on a government document. Canada, too, has seen major progress on non-binary issues, with a non-binary “X” now permitted on the country’s passports.
But victories on the East Coast, so far, have been more sparse. Last June, as PBS News Hour reported, Washington, D.C. became the first U.S. jurisdiction to add an “X” option to driver’s licenses.
This June, as CBS News noted, Maine started allowing an “X’ on driver’s licenses, too. This July, as AP reported, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a comprehensive birth certificate law which allows people to choose “male,” “female,” or “undesignated,” for the sex field.
“The significance of New York City, in particular, passing this bill, is its role as a leader and trendsetter,” Toby Adams, executive director of the Intersex and Genderqueer Recognition Project told The Daily Beast, highlighting the fact that New Jersey has been the only East Coast state so far to add a non-binary option its birth certificates. “Passing this bill in New York City increases our chances in New York State and other East Coast jurisdictions.”
Adams told The Daily Beast that the New York City birth certificate bill is important because it helps all non-binary people be recognized, regardless of whether or not they are also intersex, or born with a sex that could not be readily categorized as male or female. As Adams explained, some intersex people identify as non-binary, while others do identify as male or female. But only some non-binary people are also intersex.
Even before Speaker Johnson’s bill, Adams says, “several intersex people whose gender is non-binary have been able to obtain birth certificates in New York City listing ‘intersex.’”
Now, an option outside of male or female—a simple “X”—will be available, says Adams, “for all people with non-binary gender, not just those who are born with intersex characteristics.”
In the absence of federal recognition for non-binary genders, such state-by-state and city-by-city victories have taken on added urgency.
Transgender men and women are currently able to change the gender markers on their passports and with the Social Security Administration without undergoing costly surgery. Moving from an “M” to an “F,” or vice versa, requires a fair amount of paperwork, but it is permitted.
But so far, there has been no federal recognition of those who do not identify as either male or female. The State Department’s passport website, for instance, flatly answers the question “Can I have a passport issued with a non-binary or no sex marker?’ with “No, the only sex markers available for a U.S. passport are male and female.”
Adams told The Daily Beast that IGRP is continuing to urge other East Coast jurisdictions—specifically Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maryland—to pass their own non-binary inclusion measures, and also “working to modernize Passport and Social Security regulations to provide for a non-binary option.”
This work, she notes, is about so much more than a letter on a piece of paper.
“The importance to people whose gender is non-binary, neither male nor female, of being able to get an accurate birth certificate is validation of their reality,” she told The Daily Beast. “If it lists the wrong gender, you have to lie every time you fill out a form requiring you to show your birth certificate—registering for school, obtaining a ‘Real ID,’ traveling.”
Indeed, as The Daily Beast recently reported, the lack of recognition for non-binary people in the United States means that even if their workplace is actively inclusive of their gender identity, they must still be counted as either “male” or “female” for federal reporting purposes.
But as more and more jurisdictions begin allowing people to print an “X” on their driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and state IDs, pressure will increase for the federal government to consider allowing non-binary options, too.
In the meantime, however, New York City’s new birth certificate law will provide immediate relief to many non-binary people in the country’s largest city.
AC Dumlao, the non-binary—and Brooklyn-born—program manager for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said during the hearing on the bill that it is “a step in the right direction to change this world of only two choices, two genders.”
Asked at the hearing what New York City could learn from the West Coast jurisdictions that have already added non-binary options, Dumlao said, “It’s time to catch up.”