On Wednesday, the State Department announced a major change to U.S. passports: Americans are now allowed to self-select their genders without needing to present medical documentation when the selection does not match the gender stated on other identity documents.
The change is a historic win for transgender travelers, and one that transgender advocacy organizations have been continually pushing for. “Having accurate passports and consistent ID is critical to daily life,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “It’s necessary for travel, banking, starting a new job and school. Inaccurate IDs open transgender people up to harassment and discrimination. Reforming U.S. passports is a common-sense way to improve the lives of transgender people.” The new policies also apply to Consular Reports of Birth Abroad.
Previously, in order to select a different gender, U.S. officials required travelers to present paperwork from a doctor stating that they had undergone a full medical transition or that they were in the process of one. It was a bureaucratic hurdle that many found invasive and onerous.
Simplifying the process to self-select gender on passports was a campaign promise from President Biden, as was adding a gender neutral “X” option to the travel documents for nonbinary or intersex travelers, in addition to the standard “M” and “F” markers. While a gender neutral passport is not yet available, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Department is working toward that objective.
“We are evaluating the best approach to achieve this goal,” Blinken said in a release on Wednesday. “The process of adding a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons to these documents is technologically complex and will take time for extensive systems updates. The Department will also be working closely with its interagency partners to ensure as smooth a travel experience as possible for the passport holder.” Nonbinary travel documents are already in use in several countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Germany, India, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand, and Pakistan, according to Lambda Legal, a legal organization for LGBTQ+ people.
“I’ve been at this fight for so long,” Dana Zzyym, who does not identify as either male or female and filed one of the first lawsuits for gender neutral passports in 2015, said in a statement. “I am optimistic that, with the incredible support and work of Lambda Legal and the Intersex Campaign for Equality, I will soon receive an accurate passport. One that reflects who I truly am.”
In recent years there has been a concerted effort by activists to make the process of air travel, much of which operates on a gender binary, more neutral. Some U.S. airlines, like United and American, have added non-binary options to their ticket booking systems; as of 2019, passengers could choose an “X” or “U” option for gender, depending on the airline.
The passport changes are part of the Biden administration’s “concrete actions to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world,” Blinken said. “With this action, I express our enduring commitment to the LGBTQI+ community today and moving forward.”
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