By Beh Lih Yi
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Taiwan is considering whether to introduce a third gender option on its passports and national identity cards in a bid to protect sexual minority groups, an official said Tuesday.
The self-ruled island became a beacon of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Asia after its top court last year ruled in favour of same-sex marriage - the first such ruling in the region.
A government spokeswoman said that officials have been studying a proposal to add a third gender category as a way to boost recognition for transgender people, and for those who do not identify as either male or female.
"The government is actively assessing this proposal but has yet to make a final decision," Janet Chang, deputy spokeswoman of the cabinet, said by email from the capital, Taipei.
"The proposed policy is aimed at protecting the human rights of transgender people," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation .
Advocacy groups say although the island's 23 million people widely embrace LGBT rights, transgender and intersex people often suffer discrimination when it comes to accessing public services or securing jobs.
"Adding a third gender option would show our diversity," said Olivia Tsai from rights group Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBT) Hotline Association.
"Individuals however must have the freedom to choose whether they want to be identified in a third gender and should not be labelled automatically by the government."
The group estimates there are over two million LGBT people in Taiwan. The government has no official figure.
A few countries, including Nepal, India, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, have already offered third gender options.
Their citizens can choose between male or female, or they may select an indeterminate gender, which is usually marked by an 'x' or 'o' in the passport.
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Jared Ferrie; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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