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Dutch Court Signals Need for Gender Neutral Option

Ruling Hailed as Major Victory by Intersex and Transgender Activists

A Dutch court has found that the exclusive option of ‘male’ or ‘female’ on official documents -  including birth certificates - is too restrictive and should be revised, a ruling being praised by intersex and transgender activists.

Dutch court: A 'green light' is needed for a gender neutral option in official documents. © 2018 Boris Dittrich/Human Rights Watch

The ruling, by the Limburg District Court of Roermond, which referenced precedent in India and Nepal, suggests the Dutch legislature should provide a way for citizens to legally identify as neither male nor female if they prefer. 

The case was brought by a 57-year old applicant whose gender could not be determined at birth. The parents decided at the time to register their child as male. Years later, the applicant formally changed their gender to female, but over time found they did not identify as female either, so asked the court to recognize a third gender identity.

In a 10-page ruling, the court drew extensively on domestic and international standards and treaties relevant to gender neutral options in reaching the conclusion that the perception of how the applicant self-identifies should be decisive. The court said that self-identification prevails over bodily appearance or medical status. The court suggested the Dutch legislature initiate legislation to ensure that gender-neutral self-identification is provided for under Dutch law. The court based its reasoning on the Yogyakarta Principles, a codification of binding international human rights standards related to sexual orientation and gender identity and international treaties.

Intersex and transgender activists in the Netherlands as well as the Dutch LGBT organization COC have hailed the Roermond ruling as an historic step forward for Dutch law and European rights. The Dutch Minister of Education and Gender Equality said the government will examine the legal consequences of the court’s decision.

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