In what is understood to be the first order of its kind from a U.S. state court, an Oregon judge has granted a petition allowing a person to legally be classified as non-binary, a gender identity which does not traditionally fit within the male or female dichotomy.
The petition was filed on April 27 by 52-year-old Jamie Shupe, a retired Army sergeant.
“This is the greatest victory of my life,” Shupe tells PEOPLE. “I have won the right to legally and accurately define my sense of self and who I exist as. The judge has simply made me whole and corrected the injustices that were done to me by the medical and grossly inadequate government classification systems that I was forced to live under. Hopefully I have freed all of those like me to exist not only authentically, but legally.”
“I thought it was a reasonable classification for all the people like me who don’t fit under this male or female umbrella,” Shupe says of the non-binary gender, which is also sometimes referred to as “genderqueer.”
Judge Amy Holmes Hehn, of Multnomah County Circuit Court, granted the petition last Friday, which reads “The sex of Jamie Shupe is hereby changed from female to non-binary. Notice of this legal change shall be posted in a public place in Multnomah County as required by law.”
Shupe’s lawyer Lake J. Perriguey said that while Oregon law has long allowed one to petition the court for a gender change, it didn’t specify male or female.
“The law just says, ‘change,’ ” Perriguey described to CNN. “Historically, people have asked for a gender change from male to female and the other way around, but Jamie is the first to ask for the gender of ‘non-binary.’ ”
The move is said to be an important development for transgender Americans, which make up approximately 0.3 percent of the U.S. population according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Kris Hayashi, the executive director of Oakland, California’s Transgender Law Center, told PEOPLE that “a growing number of countries already recognize non-binary genders” and that this was “a historic step towards our government recognizing non-binary members of our community and ensuring they have access to identity documents that reflect who they are, just like everyone else.”
“This is incredibly humbling to be the first person to accomplish this,” Shupe told the Daily Dot, who first reported the news. “I hope the impact will be that it opened the legal doorway for all that choose to do so to follow me through. We don’t deserve to be classified improperly against our will.”
The The New York Times said that Shupe, who was born with male anatomy, was discharged from the Army after 18-years with papers that reflected the female sex. Shupe had previously undergone hormone treatments to transition to a woman, but felt “neither sex fit.”
Perriguey reportedly explained to Judge Hern that the envelope wasn’t being pushed by the petition, but that “the envelope just needs to get bigger.”
Since Friday’s ruling, Shupe has heard messages of thanks and support from members of the LGBTQ community, of which non-binary individuals are represented under the “Q.” “There are all these people,” Shupe explains, “They’ve been able to exist but they never had a legal existence.”
Shupe tells PEOPLE about a local Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder support group meeting on Tuesday night, where one person broke down in tears telling Shupe, ” ‘I’ve been trying to get my therapist to understand my identity and you made it legal.’ ”
Others who wish to change their genders to non-binary will still have to petition local courts individually, as the Oregon court’s decision only affects Shupe. “I’m hoping every one of the people will have their identities confirmed,” Shupe says.
Next, Shupe will attempt to get the state agency that issues state identification cards to including a non-binary choice on its forms. “That will further authenticate my existence,” Shupe explains.