Oregon residents can now legally identify as having a nonbinary gender identity, according to a recent court ruling that legal experts say is the first of its kind in the US.
On Friday, Judge Amy Holmes Hehn legally changed the sex of Army veteran Jamie Shupe from female to nonbinary. Judge Hehn wrote in the ruling that Mx. Shupe's "sexual reassignment has been completed," therefore complying with Oregon's law allowing for the change of a person's sex if a judge determines they have had surgical, hormonal, or other treatment related to gender transition.
"Oregon law has allowed for people to petition a court for a gender change for years, but the law doesn't specify that it has to be either male or female," said civil rights attorney Lake J. Perriguey, who filed Shupe's petition for gender change in April, to CNN. "The law just says, 'change.' Historically, people have asked for a gender change from male to female and the other way around, but Jamie is the first to ask for the gender of 'nonbinary.'"
Shupe, who was born biologically male, served in the Army before retiring in 2000. In 2013, Shupe began to transition, changing their name to gender-neutral "Jamie" and petitioning to legally be recognized as female.
In April, Shupe and Mr. Perriguey filed a petition with the Oregon court to legally change Shupe's sex to nonbinary.
"I was assigned male at birth due to biology," Shupe told The Oregonian. "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."
Shupe uses the honorific Mx., a gender-neutral alternative to “Mr.” or “Ms.” that has gained currency in recent years among those who identify as nonbinary.
While considered an "important step" by LGBT activists, the ruling still presents some questions and challenges for Shupe and others who may follow in their footsteps, legal experts say. Currently, Oregon laws require either "male" or "female" to be listed on residents' driver's licenses, and federal identity documents offer the same choices with no third gender option. In 2014, a petition asking the White House to legally recognize nonbinary genders amassed more than 64,000 signatures, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
There's also the question of public bathroom usage, a particularly contentious topic at a time when transgender bathroom laws are subject to heated debate.
When presented with the choice of either a male or female bathroom, the decision of which to use varies among nonbinary people, with some using the restroom that "will garner the least amount of attention" and others simply using whichever they feel most comfortable in.
A third alternative for gender-neutral people is gender-neutral bathrooms, which have been growing in popularity in recent years.
These restrooms are not always met with approval from the public, with some opponents citing potential discomfort and safety concerns. But supporters say gender-neutral restrooms are a safer option for nonbinary people than gendered restrooms, especially as one study by the Harvard Kennedy School found that those who identify their gender as hybrid, fluid, or nonbinary are in some cases at higher risk for discrimination and violence than those who identify as transgender.
At least 150 colleges, along with an increasing number of cities and counties, have adopted "gender-open" or "all-gender" restrooms, and the number continues to grow. Some universities, such as Harvard and Northwestern, have also adopted policies that allow transgender students to choose their preferred gender pronouns. Last month, Yale announced that transgender graduates could use their preferred name on their diploma rather than their birth name.
In an interview with the Daily Dot, Shupe described their experience as the first person to successfully win a nonbinary legal status as "incredibly humbling."
"I hope the impact will be that it opened the legal doorway for all that choose to do so to follow me through," Shupe said. "We don't deserve to be classified improperly against our will."