A new ruling from the Oregon Appeals Court ensures that nonbinary people across Oregon will be able to secure the correct legal gender designation from their local circuit court.
The decision, announced Wednesday morning, reverses a 2019 ruling from Lane County Circuit Court Judge Charles D. Carlson. Carlson had denied a petition from Jones David Hollister, a nonbinary Lane County resident, to change their legal designation to match their gender identity—and thus make them seen as a nonbinary person in the eyes of the law. The Oregon Appeals Court’s decision overturns that denial, and sets a precedent so that other nonbinary Oregonians won’t face the same hurdle when changing their legal gender designations.
“I am so thrilled,” Hollister said in a press release from the ACLU of Oregon and Basic Rights Oregon, which filed a legal brief in support of their case. “I'm thrilled for not just myself but for all nonbinary Oregonians. When I saw that the Court of Appeals had reversed the decision to refuse me a nonbinary marker, I honestly cried.”
As the Mercury reported last year, Hollister wanted to change their legal designation through the court system so that their identity would have to be recognized by other states and the federal government. Oregonians can change their gender to “X” on their driver’s license without going through a legal process, but Hollister’s lawyers argued that this was only an “administrative change” with unclear broader legal implications. Hollister explained why they were seeking the new legal designation in a press release shared by the ACLU of Oregon last year.
“I have spent my life marking an ‘F’ on forms, and it isn’t representative of who I am,” they said. “I am not a female, and I am not a male. I am nonbinary.”
Judges in other Oregon counties have granted new legal designations to other nonbinary people in the past. But Carlson denied Hollister’s petition. The judge wrote in his decision that existing Oregon law about gender designation changes didn’t explicitly mention nonbinary people—rather, the law focuses on transgender men and women—so he wasn’t sure if he had the power to grant Hollister’s request.
Carlson also encouraged Hollister to appeal the decision, so that the Oregon Appeals Court could “give guidance to the trial courts” moving forward.
But Hollister lawyer, Lorena Reynolds, argued that while nonbinary people are not specifically mentioned in Oregon law, the intent of the law clearly covers people who fall outside the gender binary. The Oregon Appeals Court sided with that argument in its decision.
“The circuit court erred in concluding that it lacked authority under [Oregon law] to approve petitioner’s application for a legal change of sex from female to nonbinary,” the decision reads.
Kieran Chase, the transgender justice program manager with Basic Rights Oregon, called the Oregon Appeals Court’s decision “an enormous step forward toward a world where nonbinary people are fully recognized by our government” in the press release issued today.
Hollister said that while they were “nonbinary long before this case,” the court’s decision important because they now “will have court paperwork confirming my identity.”
“They can’t just change the administrative rules and take away my legal status as nonbinary,” Hollister added. “It is legally affirmed”.