Washington is set to become the second state in the U.S. to allow a third gender option on birth certificates.
Starting on January 27, residents will be allow to change their documents to specify a neutral “X,” giving those who identify outside the binary an affirming alternative. Oregon already has such policies in place for transgender and gender nonconforming people, while California is expected to roll out additional gender choices in September 2018.
The Department of Health claimed the update is meant to represent a variety of people who don’t fit neatly into the “M” and “F” boxes.
“The most important thing is that we are trying to reflect that norms are changing and provide people with options that match their living experience,” Christie Spice, state registrar for the Center for Health Statistics, told the Seattle Times. “This is an opportunity to reduce risk of harassment and promote health equity.”
The department claimed in a statement it would define “X” to include such gender categories as “agender,” “bigender,” “genderqueer,” “intersex,” “neutrois,” “nonbinary,” “pangender,” “transgender, “transsexual,” and “Two Spirit.”
Washington’s new policies also remove some of the medical requirements necessary to apply for a gender change, which can be a costly administrative hurdle for residents. It also expands the number of options for minors to receive approval from a healthcare provider. People under the age of 18 will also need the permission of a parent or guardian to do so.
Newborn children will be ineligible to receive an “X” birth certificate.
Advocates celebrated the historic decision. GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis claimed in a statement that “it is vital that states catch up and acknowledge the reality of the non-binary community” during a time when LGBTQ rights are frequently under attack.
“With LGBTQ people and especially trans and non-binary Americans under attack daily by the Trump Administration, as evidenced by Trump’s efforts to block trans Americans from serving in the military and rescinding of Title IX protections for trans students,” Ellis told CNN on Thursday, “designation ‘X’ is a powerful and reaffirming sign that our identities cannot and will not be erased.”
Gender Justice League Direct Danni Askini added that the decision is “a critical step to eliminate social and legal barriers for nonbinary people that undermine the health, safety and equality of people because of their gender,” as the Times reported.
Activists say trans people frequently face harassment when their documents don’t match up with their physical presentation, a problem these policies hope to address.
More than 40 percent of respondents to a 2012 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality claimed they had experienced discrimination, verbal abuse, and even physical violence for having an ID or a birth certificate different from their lived gender identity.