The U.S. Department of State has issued the first official passport with an “X” gender-neutral marker, marking yet another development in the Biden administration’s attempts to make identity documents more inclusive and accessible to the LGBTQ community, particularly people who identify as nonbinary, intersex, or gender-nonconforming.
The department will be able to offer the third gender-marker option to all passport applicants once it finishes updating its systems and forms by early 2022, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“I want to reiterate, on the occasion of this passport issuance, the Department of State’s commitment to promoting the freedom, dignity, and equality of all people — including LGBTQI+ persons,” Price said in a statement on Wednesday.
The State Department announced the change in June in response to a years-long lawsuit filed by Dana Zzyym, an intersex and nonbinary Colorado resident and Naval veteran, who sued to compel the State Department, under both the Obama and Trump administrations, to issue a passport reflecting their true identity. This pattern of refusal continued for years, even when Zzyym provided a copy of their birth certificate proving that they had been born intersex.
In their lawsuit, Zzyym argued that the State Department’s rejection of their application violated their right to due process and equal protection under the Constitution, as well as the federal Administrative Procedure Act. Each time the issue went before a federal judge — which occurred multiple times — including the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court found in Zzyym’s favor.
The inability to obtain a passport significantly impacted Zzyym’s ability to do their job. As the associate director of the Intersex Campaign for Equality, Zzyym has been unable to travel internationally because of an ability to obtain a passport with a correct gender marker without committing perjury by lying on the application form.
But after President Joe Biden took power earlier this year and committed his administration, via executive order, to ensuring government agencies treat LGBTQ equally, the State Department began taking the preliminary steps needed to begin issuing gender-neutral passports, and eliminating a requirement that people seeking to change their gender marker provide proof of having undergone medical intervention for the purposes of a gender transition. Earlier this week, Zzyym finally received their long-awaited accurate passport in the mail.
“I almost burst into tears when I opened the envelope, pulled out my new passport, and saw the ‘X’ stamped boldly under ‘sex.’ I’m also ecstatic that other intersex and nonbinary U.S. citizens will soon be able to apply for passports with the correct gender marker. It took six years, but to have an accurate passport, one that doesn’t force me to identify as male or female but recognizes I am neither, is liberating,” Zzyym said in a statement.
“This is a momentous day and its significance cannot be understated, Paul Castillo, a lawyer with Lambda Legal who represented Zzym in their lawsuit. “After a six-year legal battle with three favorable court rulings, Dana has finally received an accurate U.S. passport. They showed incredible courage and perseverance throughout the case. We couldn’t be more delighted, both for Dana and, as important, for all intersex, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming United States’ passport applicants who will soon have access to the accurate passports they need.”
LGBTQ advocacy organizations were thrilled by the news.
“Intersex, nonbinary, and transgender people need identity documents that accurately reflect who we are, and having mismatched documents can create problems with safety and visibility,” Mary Emily O’Hara, the rapid response manager for GLAAD, said in a statement. “Dana Zzyym’s long fight has culminated in a victory for so many people who simply want to travel through the world as their authentic selves. Today, the U.S. finally catches up with other countries around the world that have already seen gender-neutral passports in use for years, and that’s something to celebrate.”
Currently, 20 U.S. states offer gender-neutral options on identity documents, including driver’s licenses. Fifteen countries also offer passports with a gender-neutral option, including countries like Colombia, Pakistan, India, and Nepal.
“Having accurate passports and consistent ID is critical to daily life,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the executive director for 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. We encourage the State Department to expedite the process of making an ‘X’ gender marker available to all passport applicants who want one. The ongoing work to reform US passports will improve the lives of transgender people and will help to ensure that travelers will have a better travel experience regardless of their gender identity.”
According to NCTE’s U.S. Trans Survey, only 11% of transgender respondents reported having accurate identity documents reflecting their correct name and gender, while more than two-thirds said they had no identity documents reflecting their true identity. Additionally, the survey found that nearly one-third of transgender people who presented an ID or document not reflecting their gender identity were verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or assaulted.
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