Nonbinary Oregonians, Advocacy Groups, and Legal Experts Ask Court of Appeals to Reverse County Judge’s Decision
EUGENE, Ore—Nonbinary Oregonians, Basic Rights Oregon, and the ACLU of Oregon today filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Oregon Court of Appeals in support of a Eugene resident who was denied their petition for a gender marker change. Jones Hollister’s gender is nonbinary, but their petition for a nonbinary gender marker was denied by Lane County Circuit Court Judge Charles D. Carlson earlier this year. Hollister’s appeal of the decision was filed last week with the Oregon Court of Appeals. Other supportive briefs also will be filed today and tomorrow by a Transgender Law Center, InterACT, Beyond Binary Legal, and a group of Oregon law professors.
Nonbinary is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity falls outside the binary gender categories of male and female. A nonbinary person may define their gender as falling somewhere in between male and female, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. A nonbinary person may or may not describe themselves using the word transgender.
In January, Hollister went to the Lane County Courthouse to get the state forms for changing their name and legal gender marker.
“I read the option for ‘nonbinary’ and cried,” Hollister said. “I'm nonbinary. I was raised as a girl, but I am not a she. I never have been. I'm a they.”
But Hollister’s feelings of inclusion quickly changed when the judge denied their petition.
“The judge told me that he wouldn't let me be nonbinary,” Hollister said . “I have spent my life marking an ‘F’ on forms, and it isn’t representative of who I am. I am not a female, and I am not a male. I am nonbinary.”
Hollister’s attorney, Lorena Reynolds, attorney at The Reynolds Law Firm in Corvallis, says that while judges in other counties grant requests, nonbinary Oregonians in Lane County and some other rural parts of the state regularly get denied.
“All Oregonians, including nonbinary Oregonians, need accurate identity documents,” Reynolds said. “Rural Oregonians should not be treated differently by the courts. People who live outside the gender binary have always been a part of our families and communities. As a legal system, we are finally addressing the harm done when nonbinary people do not have access to legal recognition.”
Advocates across the state and nation are working to submit friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Hollister’s appeal. Kieran Chase, transgender justice program manager with Basic Rights Oregon, said the statewide LGBTQ advocacy group partnered with the ACLU of Oregon to ensure Oregon’s courts considered the voices of and impact on other nonbinary Oregonians.
“Nonbinary people from all walks of life and from all over the state shared their stories to help the courts understand our experiences,” said Chase. “We are neighbors, friends, coworkers, spouses, and parents. Nonbinary people are part of every community, and we deserve to have our identities recognized no matter where in Oregon we live.”
Chase said Basic Rights Oregon has heard from others who had been denied gender marker changes in Lane County, including Joanna Bartlett, Eugene resident and parent of an 11-year-old nonbinary child who was denied an “x” gender marker. Bartlett later went to the Multnomah County Court and was granted their child’s nonbinary gender marker.
“My 11-year-old child shouldn’t have had to face a judge who told them they don’t exist,” said Bartlett. “I should be able to get accurate documents for my child right here in Lane County where we live.”
Sara Kobak, attorney for the ACLU of Oregon and Basic Rights Oregon, says that legal recognition of an accurate gender marker is a basic civil right. “With gender identity being a core part of human identity, laws and policies that respect and affirm a person’s accurate gender identity are essential for physical and emotional wellbeing.”
I.C., a nonbinary Oregonian quoted in the ACLU of Oregon and Basic Rights Oregon brief, summed up the importance of accurate identity documents.“(B)eing able to put X on your marker and getting that ID, that validates you as a human being with basic human rights. That you are a member of society and a citizen of this state is huge, because all of those things that we take for granted, you know, like being able to vote or driving a car, and getting insurance to drive a car, a lot of trans people don’t have those rights because of not being able to get a proper ID.”
Transgender Law Center, the largest national trans-led organization, partnered on a friend-of-the-court brief with two other organizations--interACT, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of intersex youth, and Beyond Binary Legal, an organization that supports nonbinary people by using law as a tool for survival and restorative change.
“People are increasingly recognizing the nonbinary nature of sex and gender, and the law finally is catching up,” said Caspian Nash, co-founder of Beyond Binary Legal. “A person’s ability to have recognition of legal rights should not depend on geography.”
Oregon law professors also joined together to explain to the court the history of the advocacy efforts that created the right to have accurate legal gender recognition and the constitutional violations that would occur if this right was denied to nonbinary Oregonians. The professors wrote that advocates and lawmakers who created the right to legal gender recognition intended to make this right available to all Oregonians, including nonbinary Oregonians, and Oregon’s constitution demands equal treatment under the law for all people, regardless of their gender identity.
“Oregon courts, lawmakers, and communities have long upheld gender equality as a core democratic value that must be advanced and preserved to ensure the human dignity of all people,” said Sarah Adams-Schoen assistant professor University of Oregon School of Law. “Our state vital records law clearly includes people of every gender including nonbinary people.”
Attorneys for the ACLU of Oregon and Basic Rights Oregon include Sara Kobak and Jessica Schuh of Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt PC and Kelly Simon of the ACLU of Oregon. Attorneys for the Transgender Law Center, Beyond Binary, and InterACT include John Clarke and Bruce Campbell of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP. Sarah Adams-Schoen assistant professor at the University of Oregon School of Law submitted a brief on behalf of a group of law professors from Oregon’s three law schools.
Photos and video of the Eugene press conference are available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/vjhp4yztcexzo56/AADzuZL_UXVMsAWEtaf4rEtKa?dl=0.
A blog with more information about Jones Hollister’s personal story is online at http://www.basicrights.org/news/fighting-for-the-freedom-to-live-our-lives/.
The friend-of-the-court brief from Basic Rigths Oregon and the ACLU of Oregon is online here https://aclu-or.org/sites/default/files/aclu_or_bro_amicus_brief_hollister.pdf.
Hollister’s appeal is online here https://aclu-or.org/sites/default/files/2019.11.01_-_opening_brief_with_excerpt.pdf.
Other briefs will be added to this page when they are filed: https://aclu-or.org/en/cases/jones-hollister-0.