A new German law introduces a third gender option on birth certificates, passports, driver’s licenses and other legal documents. Now, instead of just “male” or “female,” people can also choose “diverse”.
Last year, Germany’s highest court ruled that without a third category, regulations were discriminatory to those who did not identify in a binary way. The ruling followed an appeal by an intersex adult, identified only as Vanja, whom chromosome analysis found to be neither male nor female. Vanja was supported by an advocacy group, Third Option, and the court battle took four years, with the government eventually being told that legislation for a new gender category must be passed by the end of 2018. Activists have called the move “a small revolution,” the BBC reports.
However, adults must produce medical certification that proves their gender fluidity in order to legally change to the “diverse” classification. German activists criticized this requirement, arguing that physical or biological traits do not entirely determine gender. “If people feel seriously and sustainably not male or female, the law must allow them to legally register their status as they define it,” Germany’s Association of Lesbians and Gays, told the New York Times (paywall).
Vanja also said in a statement, “It is a great feeling that it is now officially recognized, that there is more than just ‘men’ and ‘women,’ even if it is a pity that of all things, medicine, which was so involved in making intersex people invisible, should now decide who should be allowed to choose a third option,” the Times reports.
Still, this choice is likely to affect many people who are, or newborns that will be, characterized as intersex. According to a Human Rights Watch report in 2017, as many as 1.7% of babies are born with physical characteristics that cannot be categorized as simply male or female. Activist groups estimate that about 80,000 people in Germany identify as intersex, USA Today reports.
Previously in Germany, parents could abstain from selecting any designation at all if their child did not fit a binary category. In 2013, Germany became the first European nation to recognize indeterminate sex by allowing the gender boxes on birth certificates to remain blank. Nepal is widely considered the first country to offer a third gender category on census forms, starting 2011. Other nations, like Australia, India, and New Zealand, also have a third gender option. Under the new law, Germans are still allowed to leave the gender box blank.