U.S. citizens will be able to select gender-neutral “X” as a marker in their passport books from April 11, the State Department said Wednesday.
It is announced on the eve of Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31 is an annual day that celebrates transgender people.
Jessica Stern, the US special envoy for LGBTQ rights, said adding an X gender marker to a US passport was “an important step.”
“The addition of the third gender identifier moves the United States forward to ensure our administrative measures for gender identity, gender expression and diversity of sexual characteristics among U.S. citizens,” he told a news conference Wednesday. “Issuing X gender markers in US passports does not create new definitions or rights. This policy change recognizes the true identity of the passport holder.”
The State Department announced in June that it would move to add a third gender identifier, but did not say when. Then, in October, it issued its first gender-neutral “X” passport.
Stern added that the update is important because people “do not always fit into the male or female category around the world.”
“The living reality of transgender, intersex, non-binary and gender-nonconforming individuals reflects that there is a broader spectrum of humanity in the passport than is represented by the binary gender title,” Stern said.
According to the Williams Institute of UCLA School of Law and Interact, an intersex advocacy group, non-binary and intersex Americans, who are not exclusively male or female, make up 1.2 million and 4 million people, respectively. Many of them have been unable to obtain IDs that accurately reflect who they are because of different state laws.
For example, fourteen states require proof of genital surgery to update gender identification on birth certificates.
People will be able to self-select their gender as “X” in their passport book and no additional documentation will be required, said Douglas Benning, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.
The policy is consistent with the one announced by the department in June, which allows applicants to self-select their gender as male or female, if their gender does not match those listed in their other identification documents, they no longer need to provide a medical certificate.
The availability of gender-neutral alternatives in U.S. passports predates a long legal battle. Dana Jezim, a Colorado intersex resident who uses the gender-neutral pronoun, sued the State Department in 2015 when they refused a passport for failing to examine a man or woman in an application.
According to court documents, Zzyym (pronounced Zimm) wrote “intersex” on the box marked “M” and “F” and requested that an “X” gender be identified instead in a separate letter.
They will not be able to attend a meeting of the Intersex International in Mexico because the State Department has denied Zzyym’s passport.
The State Department will not confirm whether it received its first gender-neutral passport in October, citing privacy concerns. Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ law firm that represents Zzyym, has confirmed that they have received the first “X” passport.
At the time, Zaim said they had “almost burst into tears” when they received their passports. “I am delighted that other intersex and nonbinary US citizens will soon be able to apply for a passport with the correct gender identifier,” they said in October.
The Transportation Security Administration announced at a news conference Wednesday that it would also introduce new gender-neutral screening procedures. Jose Bonilla, chairman of TSA’s Inclusion Action Committee, said TSA was working with its manufacturing partners to develop advanced imaging technology, or AIT, a new algorithm for body scanners that would increase security and enable officers to provide gender-neutral screening. .
Transgender people have long called for a change in TSA policy, which some say is the result of aggressive investigations and abusive experiences. For example, TSA scanners often detect abnormalities in the body of a transgender person.
Bonilla says that in response to some criticism, the TSA is updating its methods to reduce aggressive pat-down, which often results in AIT scanners being triggered “in a sensitive area”.
The change will reduce the number of pat-downs for transport safety officials “and will be effective until the traveling public and gender-neutral AIT screening technology is deployed without compromising safety,” he said.
As the April 11 gender-neutral “X” became widely available, Stern said, the United States joins other countries in “recognizing their gender options in passports without additional verification beyond the individual’s own confirmation.”
“We hope that by doing this we will help other governments to make this option available to their own citizens,” he added.
Citizens of Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Nepal and New Zealand are allowed to choose any gender other than male or female in their passports.