Cascadia: A Haven for Non-Binary People in an Otherwise Hostile Country

Did you know that 66% of the U.S. does not recognize non-binary people?*

In the vast majority of the country, non-binary and gender non-conforming people are not legally protected from denial of housing, fair treatment, or being fired from their jobs** – and that doesn’t include the microaggressions that might come with, say, keeping your job but making much less than one’s peers or being passed over for a promotion because of “not being the right type of person for the job.”

At the federal U.S. level, non-binary persons aren’t counted in the Census (more on info on what that matters from a non-binary perspective here: ) and can’t even get U.S. passports with the correct gender – although they could if they lived in other countries, including  Austria, Canada, Germany, Iceland, Taiwan, Denmark, India, The Netherlands, New Zealand, or Australia (it’s worth noting that while many countries have only added the “X” option on passports in the last few years, Australia has been issuing “X” passports for 18 years). Even places considered conservative when it comes to gender equity, such as Pakistan, allow one to get an “X” on their driver’s license. And yet, in 33 states in the U.S., that’s not the case.

Fortunately for non-binary and gender non-conforming Cascadians, they live in what may be the best and most well-protected area for non-binary people in the U.S. and Canada: Cascadia.

What Protections Do Non-Binary People Have in Cascadia?

In November 2019, Cascadia solidified its position as a leader in non-binary rights by approving legislation allowing Washingtonians to change their gender and sex designation to an “X” on WA state IDs and licenses. This was a big step towards a Cascadia united in legally recognizing intersex and non-binary residents and de-colonizing concepts of gender in the region. The Washington Department of Health already allowed an “X” option on birth certificates as of 2018, while the majority of Cascadia, including Oregon, California, British Columbia, Nevada, Alberta, the Northwestern Territories and the Yukon Territories, all allow both IDs and birth certificates to have an “X” gender designation.

This tiny letter on an ID might not seem like a big deal, but it is! Being a formally recognized sex or gender means that the legal anti-sex discrimination protections of each state extends by proxy to its non-binary residents. And, many parts of Cascadia, most notably Washington, Oregon, California, Alberta, BC, and the Yukon Territories have explicitly included gender identity and gender expression in their anti-discrimination laws. (Gender expression matters because that means they can’t discriminate against you for your identity or what it looks likes, unique to you!)

Here are some examples of legal protections non-binary persons have in various parts of Cascadia:

  • Can’t be fired for being non-binary
  • Non-binary employees cannot be told the “dress differently” because of their gender and cannot be asked to dress like a certain gender (ie: “more masculine” or “more feminine”) regardless of the person’s actual gender
  • Cannot be told to use a restroom or bathroom that does not align to their gender
  • Cannot be refused goods, entertainment, recreation or assembly, or lodging
  • Cannot be evicted from housing because of gender
  • Cannot be charged higher rent and landlords cannot refuse to rent to non-binary people
  • Likewise, non-binary people can’t be denied buying property or land due to their gender
  • Right to access of education and insurance regardless of gender
  • Doctors cannot deny treating non-binary patients
  • Homeless shelters and other social service providers cannot deny non-binary persons their services
  • Cannot be denied access to unions or associations
  • In the Canadian portion of Cascadia, there are even wage protections!

Remember, these are all human rights that are not available to non-binary persons outside of Cascadia. Non-binary persons who are living outside of Cascadia can be discriminated against in one or more of the arenas listed above.

There’s Still Work to Do

Despite that the majority of Cascadia having protections for its non-binary inhabitants, there is still some work to do. Not all parts of Cascadia have non-binary recognition or protection – and in Idaho, transgender Cascadians’ ability to correct their birth certificates was eliminated earlier this year.

Idaho is the biggest portion of Cascadia that refuses to recognize and to provide legal and social services to its trans and non-binary residents. Make no mistake: these Cascadians are at risk and we should be very concerned about the safety and well-being of our Idaho-residing co-Cascadians.

Non-binary legal recognition is not even on the table for discussion in Idaho, for either IDs or birth certificates. Worse, the legal victories for trans folx in Idaho are being actively eroded. Idaho House Bill 509 was signed into law March 30, 2020, with an effective date of July 1, 2020. It prohibits birth certificate gender changes for transgender people, who previously were able to change the binary gender indicator on their birth certificate so long as they jumped through the required hoops such as court orders and physicians’ notes. As of now, gender on birth certificates can only be updated within one year of birth due to an error, and only by the legal parent or guardian. This is important to note for non-binary people because many intersex persons (some of who are non-binary and some of who continue on with their assigned gender) do not discover that they are not the gender they were raised asuntil well after puberty starts. Additionally, binary trans persons’ advocacy has always paved the way for their lesser-known and lesser-documented non-binary siblings. Seeing any anti-transgender legislation is a huge red flag for both the trans and non-binary communities – and the allies and family members who love them.

Not all areas of Cascadia without legal recognition of non-binary people do so maliciously. In the northern part of Cascadia, Alaska has yet to implement legal recognition of X-gendered residents. This may be in part because these is a strong conservative base in Alaska, but there is also a purely logistical reason for not having “X”s on IDs: to change one’s gender on an Alaskan-issued ID, a person must first change their gender with United States’ Social Security Department. Because the Social Security Department doesn’t recognize third-gender or non-binary genders at this time, it is unlikely that Alaskan Cascadians will have the option of an “X” on their IDs until it is something available at the federal level (this might be a long, long wait).

The Montana portion of Cascadia is an interesting case in that the legal gender change forms have blanks rather than applicants check-marking a box to indicate what the correct gender should be to display on the ID or birth certificate. As of now, this author could not find any conclusive information about whether a non-binary gender change request would be approved by the Montana government. However, it is worth noting that Montana does require either a court order, a federal document, or proof from a physician that one has “undergone or completed a gender change” in order for the update to be made. We assume that these steps make it tricky for non-binary persons, who might choose not to undergo surgery or hormone-replacement therapies, and who cannot get a federal document recognizing their gender, to get their “X.” (Hey – at least this is a step up from when Montana used to require that binary trans persons had undergone drastic and expensive surgical procedures in order to be legally recognized.)There is a coalition of Montanians who advocate for non-binary, trans, and intersex rights within the state. We’re rooting for them to bring this issue to the forefront, and one day make it starkly clear that an “X” is obtainable on IDs in the Big Sky state.

On the eastern side of Cascadia, Wyoming simply does not allow for “X”s on IDs or birth certificates (and for binary transgender people, they still require a therapist’s signature before you can get a new ID, which is a little old school in this author’s opinion).

We Live Here for a Reason

There are many reasons why I am Cascadian. I love this beautiful land; I love the culture, the food, and the people here. But without human rights, it would not be a place where I feel accepted, safe, or supported.

We don’t know how many non-binary people exist in Cascadia, in the U.S., or in the world. Data on and about us are few and far between and are often lumped in with binary transfolks (who may have very different needs and experiences from us non-binary folks). All that is really known is that the long-term impacts of discrimination against us in a binary society lead to homelessness, drug abuse, and endangering situations.

The hardships of being non-binary are compounded for the regional indigenous groups who have had binary gender constructs wielded against them as a weapon of colonization, and for gender non-conforming persons of color, who face disproportionate rates of assault, murder, and rape. This trauma dates back to when colonizers first “discovered America” and when they literally fed indigenous two-spirit people to the dogs. Settlers killed non-binary First Nations people, forced their assimilation, and erased their cultural roles. Two-spirit people had to go underground so as to not be wiped out, and this led to the development of shame, misunderstanding, and discrimination even within their own families and nations. It was only in 1990 (a mere 30 years ago – younger than I am!) that First Nations people felt safe enough to begin recognizing Two-Spirit people again, and adopted the umbrella term “Two-Spirit” as many of the nation-specific words had been lost in the colonization. Only now are they trying to revive their place in First Nations culture. In Cascadia, the Northwest Two Spirit Society in Seattle and the Four Feathers Two Spirit Society of BC are doing the long, hard work of regaining respect after hundreds of years of murder, erasure, and discrimination.

Cascadians are, at their root, decolonizers. We recognize that the colonial constructs of states, the 49th parallel border line, and our systematically racist governments are harmful systems put in place by rich and power-hungry land-grabbers. We recognize that these systems actively harm us, the inhabitants of this great green bioregion, and make it more difficult for us to care for ourselves, each other, and the land.

Binary gender constructs are another colonial tool that needs to go down the drain with the rest of these outdated systems that aren’t working for us – and never have worked for many of us.

Non-binary awareness and respect is an important aspect of Cascadian culture. It is important that you recognize your fellow Cascadians who are non-binary and support their ongoing struggles for recognition and federal rights. It is important to defend and stick up for non-binary persons everywhere, and in every culture and of every color, as part of your Cascadian decolonizing prerogative. It is important to respect us as we are. We are a small, diverse, and not-well documented type of people whose history has been eradicated, massacred, and continues to be ignored.

We are lucky to live here in Cascadia with you, and frankly – you’re lucky to live here with us.

This article was shared as a part of Non-Binary Awareness Week, which falls each year on the days before and after July 14th, International Non-Binary Awareness Day.

* Data from January 2020

** Whether the recent Supreme Court case ruling that transgender persons cannot specifically be fired for their gender or sexuality will carry over to non-binary persons is yet to be determined – it may not be the case if that person lives in a state where their gender, gender identity, or gender expression is not recognized. And, note that this is only job discrimination…it will have to be tested whether this will extend to other forms of discrimination.

About the Author

Jay Conrad, they / them, is a law student, legal advocate, Cascadian and non-binary activist. They are the editor of the digital magazine, written exclusively by and for non-binary persons. It features art, community news, opinion pieces and other information that is relevant to the non-binary community at large.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski. Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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