On Tuesday, Oct. 9, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City (NYC) signed legislation allowing a third gender to be added to NYC birth certificates for those who identify as nonbinary. This legislation was introduced by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in June. “Today is a historic day for New York in its role as a worldwide champion for inclusivity and equality,” said Johnson. “[I want] to thank the [LGBTQIA+] community for their advocacy and work on this issue to keep New York City in its rightful place as a leader in human rights.”
The law also gets rid of the requirement that transgender people must have a note from a medical professional to change their gender on their birth certificate. According to Rolling Stone, transgender individuals will instead be allowed to “self attest” to their gender. This new policy is expected to make changes on other forms of identification much easier; however, residents of NYC under the age of 18 will still have to get parental consent.
“[This bill is] an essential example of freedom,” said de Blasio. “If you’re denied the right to express yourself, you don’t have freedom. If you have to sit by the door of a classroom worried that someone is going to typify you the wrong way and deny your identity, you don’t have freedom. You don’t feel free.”
NYC is not the first to pass legislation helping people with gender non-conforming identities get their identity of choice legally recognized. In July, 2017, Oregon became the first state to pass legislation allowing residents to change to gender “X” on their driver’s licenses or identification cards. Like the NYC bill, the legislation passed in Oregon took away the requirement that people requesting a gender change must get a doctor’s note. Shortly before, Washington, D.C. added a third gender to their driver’s licenses as well. Oregon, Washington State, California, Maine, and New Jersey have similar laws as well. Associate Professor of Religious Studies Rosemary Carbine, who advises students in the Gender Studies minor on campus, says that there will need to be a federal response to the rise of gender-neutral legislation on legal documents. “The U.S. government will need to review its self-identification policies for passports and Social Security, for example, as these agencies offer only gender binary choices,” she said. “Other nations, like India, Pakistan, Nepal, Denmark, Germany, and Canada, among others, are already taking the lead on gender-neutral passports.”
Some Whittier College students feel that this law signifies a positive change. Fourth-year Charlotte Quarrie had similar sentiments. “I think it’s really great that NYC is taking these steps to recognize people who don’t identify within the gender binary,” said Quarrie. “There are lots of reasons why someone might not identify within [the binary], and it can often feel very ostracizing to be one of those people, so this new measure helps with putting an end to that.”
The politicization of gender identities is a relatively contemporary western phenomenon. Other cultures and countries, as mentioned above by Professor Carbine, incorporate non- binary gender identity into their society much more successfully. In India in 2014, legislation was passed allowing legal recognition of citizens who identify as a third gender, although “hijra,” as they are called, have been around for thousands of years. In Ancient Egypt, there was a female Pharaoh, — not a queen, but a king — named Hatshepsut who ruled Egypt as a masculine figure, as well as a Pharaoh named Akhenaten who was portrayed as purposefully androgynous in sculptural depictions of himself and his family. In many ancient cultures, androgyny was seen as an aspect of divinity.
While contemporary genderqueer people may not be considered divine, they have certainly taken great steps in their own journey to equal rights. De Blasio offered his support to the genderqueer people of his city. “You be you,” said de Blasio to his constituency while signing the bill. “Live your truth. And know that New York City will have your back.”