The U.S. State Department plans to begin issuing gender-neutral passports.
The department is moving toward offering a marker for nonbinary, intersex, and gender-nonconforming people on passports and reports of births abroad, although it does not yet have a target date for when the marker will be available, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday.
Immediately, though, the department will update its procedures “to allow applicants to self-select their gender as ‘M’ or ‘F’ and will no longer require medical certification if an applicant’s self-selected gender does not match the gender on their other citizenship or identity documents,” Blinken said in the announcement, posted on the State Department website.
“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,” the statement continued, touting the many pro-LGBTQ+ moves by President Joe Biden’s administration. “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.”
LGBTQ+ rights groups praised the move, although some expressed disappointment at the lack of a target date. The State Department said adding the gender-neutral marker “is technologically complex and will take time for extensive systems updates.”
“While the lack of a date … is disappointing, the change represents a victory for Lambda Legal plaintiff and intersex and nonbinary U.S. Navy veteran Dana Zzyym — who does not identify as either male or female — and countless other passport applicants who are nonbinary and/or intersex,” said a Lambda Legal press release. “Zzyym has waged a legal fight for more than six years to get an accurate U.S. passport.”
In May 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ordered the State Department to issue Zzyym a passport with a gender-neutral marker. “A chef might label a jar of salt a jar of sugar, but the label does not make the salt any sweeter,” Judge Robert E. Bacharach wrote for a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit. “Nor does requiring intersex people to mark ‘male’ or ‘female’ on an application make the passport any more accurate.”
“I’ve been at this fight for so long,” Zzyym said in the Lambda Legal release. “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; 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.”
Several other groups also issued statements lauding the action. “Thank you to the Biden administration for taking this important step forward, and congrats to Dana Zzyym and other nonbinary and intersex advocates who we have been fighting together with for this important change,” said Arli Christian, a campaign strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union. “Improved access to accurate passports will have such a profound impact on the lives of trans, intersex, and nonbinary folks across the country. Now people will be able to fill out a passport application and indicate M, F, or X — whichever is most appropriate for them. Despite a hateful wave of anti-trans legislation this year, trans, nonbinary, and intersex people know who we are, and we need recognition of who we are — not permission. Today’s action demonstrates an important first step in realizing a whole-of-government policy for accurate IDs.”
“The Human Rights Campaign commends the State Department for advancing a new policy to allow non-binary, intersex, and gender-nonconforming Americans to obtain a passport that accurately reflects their gender identity and for updating the existing policy to modernize the process for updating gender markers,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “These policies — which the Human Rights Campaign called for in our Blueprint for Positive Change — will decrease the risk of discrimination, harassment, and violence for an already vulnerable group.”
“Having accurate passports and consistent ID is critical to daily life,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “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.”
With the policy change, the United States joins at least 10 other countries that issue passports with gender markers other than F or M, including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Germany, India, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand, and Pakistan, according to Lambda Legal. Most countries that offer a third marker in use X. In the U.S., 21 states and the District of Columbia allow residents to obtain state driver’s licenses and state-issued ID cards with neutral gender markers. New York became the 21st state this month following the enactment of the Gender Recognition Act and Lambda Legal’s litigation and advocacy on behalf of Sander Saba, a nonbinary New Yorker who sought a driver’s license with an X marker. New York’s new policy will be implemented by next May.