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U.S. to add ‘X’ gender marker on passports

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Transgender and intersex Americans will have the power to identify their own gender on travel documents without providing medical documentation by the end of this year, an administration official said.

Originally published by The 19th

By Kate Sosin, Orion Rummler

For the first time ever, the federal government will allow nonbinary and intersex people to obtain IDs and passports with an “X” gender marker instead of an “M” or and “F.” The interim policy also removes the requirement that transgender people provide proof of gender transition from a physician, allowing gender diverse Americans to self identify. 

According to a source within the administration, nonbinary Americans are expected to be able to obtain the interim X gender markers by the end of the year. The new rule marks the most substantial change to federal documents for transgender people since 2010, when the Obama administration put in place a policy to allow trans Americans to update their passports.

The State Department’s announcement Wednesday makes good on one of President Joe Biden’s campaign promises and comes after months of prodding from the ACLU and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, which argued that inaccurate identification barred people from traveling and completing job applications.

Twenty states and Washington, D.C., already issue IDs with “X” gender markers, and Illinois, Indiana and New York have passed laws to roll out gender neutral IDs in the coming months or years. That has left many trans, nonbinary and intersex Americans with licenses listing their gender as “X” and passports that say “M” or “F.” 

According to the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly half (46 percent) of trans and nonbinary people in the United States don’t have identification that lists their correct name or gender. Advocates say that leaves many vulnerable to violence or discrimination any time they have to use an ID to travel, interact with police, go to a bank or even vote

Advocates have lobbied for removing gender markers altogether from some federal documents, but experts say removing them from passports is impossible due to international travel requirements. Advocates say that getting gender diverse people accurate IDs, however, can be life saving. 

A photo of Dana Zzym.
Dana Zzyym, a Navy veteran, was the plaintiff in a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal against the U.S. State Department seeking more gender options for passports. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“Improved access to accurate passports will have such a profound impact on the lives of trans, intersex and nonbinary folks across the country,” said Arli Christian, a campaign strategist with the ACLU. “But the work doesn’t stop here. We will keep working with the administration to make sure we see these important changes to gender change policies across all federal agencies.”

The policy comes on the heels of a protracted legal battle that spanned three presidential administrations. Dana Zzyym, an intersex Navy veteran, sued the State Department with LGBTQ+ legal organization Lambda Legal in 2016 to obtain an accurate passport. More than a year ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ordered the State Department to issue Zzyym a passport with a gender marker “X.” 

“I’ve been at this fight for so long,” Zzyym 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.”

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