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Passports May Soon Include a New Option for Gender Identity

  • February 24, 2021

The bureaucratic hurdles to update or change gender on important documents, such as driver’s licenses and passports, can be insurmountable for many individuals.

According to a report from Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, about 42 percent of transgender people who are eligible to vote in 45 American states — they estimate that’s more than 350,000 people — do not have identification documents that reflect their correct name, gender or both.

A huge challenge is medical authorization, especially in the case of passports. “You have to go to a physician and get a formal letter on the letterhead,” said Mx. Christian of the A.C.L.U. That poses a problem for people “who don’t have insurance, live in rural areas and aren’t out to their providers, or haven’t had certain kinds of medical treatment for various reasons. It’s a big barrier to getting an updated ID.”

In 2014, Dana Zzyym, a military veteran, sued the State Department after being denied a gender-neutral passport. Mx. Zzyym is intersex; their original birth certificate identified them as male, and their driver’s license listed them as female, according to court documents.

In several court battles with Mx. Zzyym, the department argued that its current binary sex designation is necessary for communicating with state and federal agencies, and for confirming eligibility. The department also said that adding another gender category to information systems would require time and money. A federal judge ruled against the government, and last year, the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit offered a mixed opinion, saying that only two of the five reasons the State Department gave for denying Mx. Zzyym their passport were valid.

“A chef might label a jar of salt a jar of sugar, but the label does not make the salt any sweeter,” the court of appeals wrote. “Nor does requiring intersex people to mark ‘male’ or ‘female’ on an application make the passport any more accurate.” The judges added that Mx. Zzyym’s experience “illustrates the inevitable inaccuracies of a binary sex policy” and asked the State Department to reconsider Mx. Zzyym’s passport application.

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