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Oregon Appeals Court Backs Right To Legal Nonbinary Gender Designation

<p>Jones Hollister (center) tried to file a petition to change their gender to nonbinary, but was denied in a Lane County court.</p>
<p>Jones Hollister (center) tried to file a petition to change their gender to nonbinary, but was denied in a Lane County court.</p>

The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday in favor of a person's right to legally change their gender to nonbinary.

The ruling requires circuit court judges to grant nonbinary as a gender marker if a person has legally followed the process to make that gender change. 

Oregon birth certificates and drivers licenses already have a nonbinary option. But those are administrative, not legal, changes.

The appeals court sided with Eugene resident Jones Hollister, 53, whose petition for a nonbinary gender marker in 2019 was denied by Lane County Circuit Court Judge Charles Carlson. 

"I am thrilled," Hollister said. "To have a ruling and to have a really affirming statement by the court, I'm speechless. I can barely talk because I keep crying every time I think about it. I'm just so excited."

The appeal's courts ruling states a circuit court judge has the "authority to grant the requested change of legal sex" and that it's not restricted to male or female. "Rather, the new sex designation must affirm the petitioner’s gender identity whether that is male, female, or nonbinary," the appeals court ruled.

A nonbinary gender marker can refer to those who see their gender having male or female qualities, a combination, or who define their gender altogether differently.

In issuing its opinion, the Court of Appeals said the cases posed a question: Does state law "permit the circuit court to grant a legal change of sex from male or female to nonbinary?"

The Court of Appeals said yes, so long as a person seeking to change their gender follows the provisions outlined in the law.

Hollister said they know of seven other people who sought a nonbinary gender marker, but were denied by Carlson.

"It is really strange to have paperwork that doesn't match when it talks about who you are," Hollister said. "It should be all the same. The same name, same birthday, same gender. And so I wanted to have the legal judgement from the court, which is now case law."

Hollister said that's critical when trying to get companies and other organizations to provide a nonbinary gender option.

"I wanted to have that so that when I go talk to these institutions that don't currently have an option besides male or female, I can be like, 'Look, this is a court case saying this is the fact," Hollister said. "'And so how do I make it so I am not lying on this paperwork for you? How are you going to change your paperwork so it has an option?'"

The case was brought with no opposition, meaning the Court of Appeals ruling will stand, rather than be appealed to a higher court.

The ACLU of Oregon, the Oregon Department of Justice and others filed briefs in support of Hollister.

"This decision ensures that all transgender, gender-diverse, and gender non-conforming Oregonians — including those who identify as nonbinary — can obtain documentation that accurately reflects their gender identity," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in statement.

Hollister celebrated by having cake with their spouse. In the coming weeks, Hollister expects to receive paperwork from the court with their correct gender marker.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting