BIDDEFORD — Discrimination against transgender individuals has made headlines in Maine over the last few years. For example, Nicole Maines was told that she couldn’t use the girls’ bathroom at her Orono elementary school. Maines and her family challenged this prejudice, and in 2014, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that transgender students may use the school bathroom designated for the gender with which they identify.

More recently, Landon Fry of Springfield was outed by a neighbor as transgender. Fry’s family since has been barred from services at Springfield Community Church, and Fry and his children have been the target of bullying.

Gender identity describes how people view themselves. The label is not dependent on what genitals you are born with but on how you perceive yourself. Most people would classify themselves as “cisgender,” meaning that their gender lines up with the sex they were assigned at birth (i.e., male or female). However, we also can classify ourselves as transgender (your gender does not match the sex assigned at birth); nonbinary (you do not identify as male or female and fall somewhere on the gender spectrum), and agender (you do not identify with any gender).

Maine law prohibits discrimination and hate crimes based on gender identity. However, a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality showed that transgender Mainers still face bias in health care, housing and education. Forty-three percent of participants who saw a health care provider reported at least one negative experience related to being transgender, including being refused treatment, verbally harassed or physically or sexually assaulted. Nearly one-third of participants had experienced some form of gender identity-related housing discrimination in the past year, such as being evicted from their home or denied housing.

While nearly 1.5 million U.S. adults identify as transgender, many are not able to legally classify themselves as such. In the United States, federal law doesn’t require people to undergo sexual reassignment surgery to legally change their sex or gender. But many states require certification from a health professional that proves a person has undergone medical or psychological treatment to prepare for the legal change. This can make the transition process difficult for individuals who do not have access to quality health care. What’s more, only a few states allow for nonbinary sex and gender labels on legal documentation.

Because our current method of legally identifying gender is not inclusive, nonbinary individuals are left feeling uncomfortable and disempowered. Incorrect gender markers force individuals to out themselves every time they are required to show their ID, making them vulnerable to the scrutiny of others. It is imperative that we allow U.S. citizens to have accurate identification when it comes to gender identity.

Maine lets individuals change the gender on their driver’s license, and in July 2019, the state will start issuing IDs with “M” (male), “F” (female) or “X” (nonbinary) on the front. While this is a step in the right direction, our Legislature could do more to make the state more inclusive. We should have the right to change the gender on our birth certificates without having to get a doctor’s note that says we have completed “transition treatment.” After all, we know ourselves better than anyone else does, right?

After looking at all the ways that incorrect gender markers negatively affect people, I am left wondering – should we get rid of gender labels on government-issued IDs? The Gender Free ID Coalition has been advocating for the removal of these labels from identity documents for several years, noting the risks of forced disclosure of nonbinary identity. For example, a transgender individual with a nonbinary gender marker on their passport would be in serious danger in Honduras, which has the highest number of murders of transgender people worldwide relative to its population. There also are calls for issuing birth certificates without an assigned gender, allowing the child to make the choice later on.

Whether society decides to add a nonbinary gender option to legal documents or to get rid of gender markers altogether, it is time for us to rally for identification that matches one’s true identity.

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