In a landmark step, the United States on Wednesday issued its first passport with an "X" gender marker, which denotes that someone is neither exclusively male nor female.
The State Department said it had issued a first passport with "X" for gender and would make the option routinely available by early 2022 both for passports and birth certificates of Americans abroad.
So, what makes this a milestone and why is this a step towards achieving equality.
Gender on passports
In June, the State Department had announced that it was moving toward adding a third gender marker but said it would require time as systems needed extensive updates.
Currently US citizens have to choose “F” for female or “M” for male on travel documents. The new policy will allow applicants to select “X” for non-binary or unspecified.
The struggle for recognition of a third gender on the US passport stems from the legal battle that Dana Zzyym, an intersex and nonbinary Colorado resident, had waged.
The story goes that: Zzyym had sued the State Department in 2015 when they were denied an X passport. Zzyym’s original birth certificate identified them as male, and their driver’s license listed them as female, according to court documents.
The court ruled in favour of Zzyym in 2016, but the federal court had to reopen the case because the State Department continued to “refuse to recognise a gender marker that is neither ‘M’ (male) nor ‘F’ (female).” In 2018, a judge again found that the State Department had violated the law.
While the US state department did not state who the first recipient of the ‘X’ passport was, Zzyym told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that they received it. Zzyym picked up the UPS package with the passport after getting an early morning text and phone call from their lawyer, Paul Castillo of Lambda Legal, that it had arrived.
As per the Associated Press report, 63-year-old Zzyym said it thrilling to finally get the passport, the goal was to help the next generation of intersex people win recognition as full citizens with rights, rather than travel the globe. “I’m not a problem. I’m a human being. That’s the point,” Zzyym said.
The State Department spokesperson Ned Price was quoted as saying, "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."
In comments to the Associated Press, US special diplomatic envoy for LGBTQI+ rights, Jessica Stern, said the move was “historic and celebratory,” noting they bring the government travel documents in line with the “lived reality” that there is a wider spectrum of human sex characteristics than is reflected in the previous two designations.
“When a person obtains identity documents that reflect their true identity, they live with greater dignity and respect,” said Stern.
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, praised the move. “Today is a milestone for the United States as the State Department issues the first passport with an ‘X’ designation, and we are so glad that soon all transgender, intersex, and non-binary people will be able to access an accurate marker on their passport. The ACLU will continue to work with the Biden administration so that accurate gender markers are available on IDs and records across the federal government,” the group said in a statement.
As per a report in The New York Times, Mary Emily O’Hara, a spokesperson for GLAAD, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organisation, said: “Today, the US 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,” they said in a statement.
US joins other countries
The United States joins a handful of countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Nepal, New Zealand and Malta, in allowing its citizens to designate a gender other than male or female on their passports.
Interestingly, before the 1970s, gender was not required to be listed on passports at all. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations agency that sets global regulations for machine readable passports, allows for three sex categories: female, male, or “X” for unspecified.
With inputs from agencies