The State Department announced on Wednesday that the agency has begun the process of updating passport-issuing procedures to better include the LGBTQ community, such as working toward adding a gender mark for nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming applicants.
For the first time, the federal government will allow nonbinary people to obtain passports and IDs using an “X” marker instead of an “M” or “F,” according to a statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken first reported by The 19th. Blinken announced the decision on the last day of Pride Month.
The department will “most immediately” remove the requirement that transgender people provide proof of their transition from a physician, allowing Americans to self-identify on their applications. Previously, trans people were required to select the “M” or “F” gender that was assigned to them at birth if it matches other citizenship or identity documents.
Blinken said the process of adding the “X” gender marker is “technologically complex” and “will take time for extensive system updates.” A source within the administration told The 19th that nonbinary people can expect to be able to obtain the new gender marker by the end of the year.
The move is the most significant change to federal documents for transgender people since 2010, when the Obama administration employed a policy to allow trans Americans to update their passports to reflect their correct gender.
“In line with the Administration’s commitment to re-engage with allies and partners, the Department is taking these steps after considerable consultation with like-minded governments who have undertaken similar changes,” Blinken said. “We also value our continued engagement with the LGBTQI+ community, which will inform our approach and positions moving forward. With this action, I express our enduring commitment to the LGBTQI+ community today and moving forward.”
The update comes after about six years of the federal government facing litigation from Dana Zzyym, an intersex and nonbinary U.S. Navy veteran who has been fighting to get a passport that accurately reflects their gender identity. Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit in October 2015 alleging that the State Department violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act, among other claims, by denying Zzyym an accurate passport.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado issued its rulings in favor of Zzyym in November 2016 and after a second hearing in September 2018. The State Department appealed the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the court ordered the agency to reconsider its decision to deny the veteran a passport, noting that forcing intersex individuals to pick a binary gender marker in the passport application “injects inaccuracy into the data.”
“I’ve been in this fight for so long,” Zzyym said Wednesday. “I am optimistic that, with the incredible support of Lambda Legal and the Intersex Campaign for Equality, I will soon receive an accurate passport. One that reflects who I truly am; and that will allow for me to present in person at the several international conferences to which I’ve been invited to present on issues confronting intersex people.”
During litigation, Zzyym managed to secure a Colorado driver’s license with an “X” gender marker after the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles updated its policy in 2018. In the U.S., 21 states and the District of Columbia allow residents to obtain state driver’s licenses and state-issued IDs with neutral gender markers, with Oregon being the first to do so in 2016 and New York being the latest this month, according to Lambda Legal.
The State Department’s decision results in the U.S. joining at least 10 other countries that issue passports with gender markers other than “M” or “F,” including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Germany, India, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand and Pakistan. The “X” gender marker is recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency that recommends international travel document standards.
The National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 68% of respondents did not have any identification or record that reflected both the name and gender they identify with.
A third of trans and nonbinary respondents who had IDs incongruent with their identities reported being harassed, denied services, and sometimes being attacked ― with Middle Eastern and Indigenous respondents experiencing such instances more often than other racial or ethnic groups. This type of incongruence leaves many vulnerable when they travel, interact with law enforcement, go to a bank or try to vote.
“Having accurate passports and consistent ID is critical to daily life,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the center’s executive director, said in a statement. “It’s necessary for travel, banking, a new job and school. Inaccurate IS open transgender people up to harassment and discrimination. Reforming US passports is a common-sense way to improve the lives of transgender people.”