The United States will join other nations including Denmark, India, and Australia in adding a third gender marker to U.S. passports. The gender marker “X” should be an available option to gender conforming and intersex individuals applying for passports later this year. Anthony Blinken, Secretary of State, notes that while “the process of adding a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons to these documents is technologically complex and will take time for extensive systems updates. The Department will also be working closely with its interagency partners to ensure as smooth a travel experience as possible for the passport holder.”
This win not only affects intersex or nonbinary individuals, but it also makes the process of applying for or renewing a passport easier for all transgender people who wish to update their gender marker. Previously, transgender people had to provide “proof of transition” documents from a health care professional in order to change the gender marker on their passport. The Biden administration announced that these documents are no longer required.
The addition of a third gender marker has been at least partially attributed to Dana Zzym, who has been suing the state for a third gender marker on U.S. passports in a legal battle that has spanned three administrations.
Zzyym v. Pompeo
In 2015, intersex navy-veteran Dana Zzym was denied a passport because neither “M” nor “F” reflected their sexual identity. Further complicating the issue, Zzym’s other identity documents, including their driver’s license, had third gender markers. Zzym, who serves as Associate Director of the Intersex Campaign for Equality, was unable to travel outside the country to speak at and attend several international intersex rights conferences. Zzym, like many intersex people, was forced to undergo medically unnecessary and ultimately unsuccessful surgeries as a child after their parents decided to raise them as a boy. Only after a six-year career in the navy and extensive research did Zzym discover their identity.
Zzym and Lambda Legal, the nation’s largest legal organization focused on serving the LGBTQ+ community, filed a lawsuit against the State Department. Despite courts repeatedly ruling in Zzym’s favor, they did not receive a passport with correct gender markers. Now, they finally have hope they will.
While Zzym’s story highlights many of the adversities faced by intersex people living in the United States, their perseverance and bravery resulted in the biggest change to U.S. passport policy since a 2010 Obama-era change allowed transgender people to change their gender on their passports.
As Lambda Legal Counsel, Paul D. Castillo, stated last Wednesday, “With today’s announcement, countless intersex, gender non-conforming, and other gender-diverse United States’ passport applicants will at last get the accurate passports they need. As important, self-certification of their identity removes unnecessary barriers and makes accurate IDs accessible to more people, reducing discrimination, harassment, and violence aimed at transgender people.”
How Will This Affect Intersex, Transgender, and Gender Non-conforming Marylanders?
This change in policy will come as a relief for many intersex, transgender, and gender non-conforming Marylanders. As of October 1st, 2019, Marylanders could select an “X” as a gender marker on their Driver’s License at any MDOT MVA branch office for a $20 fee. Having a driver’s license that has the gender designation “X” and having a passport that has a different gender designation listed could prove to be a headache or outright dangerous when traveling, job hunting, or accessing other benefits that require proof of citizenship.
Marylanders who wish to change the gender designation on their passports can find instructions here.
While the process for changing the gender designation on passports has been made easier, the associated fee may still prohibit or delay some intersex, gender non-conforming, and trans individuals from changing their passport to match their gender. It will likely cost $135+ dollars to make this change, and there are fees associated with taking a new passport photo. For some intersex, gender non-conforming, and trans people, who are disproportionally affected by job discrimination, this extra cost could be prohibitive.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Zzym stated in an interview with NPR in regard to their win, “It’s been a long time coming.” Passports and driver’s licenses are only the beginning in a number of official documents to include third gender designations. FreeState Justice is actively engaged in ensuring Maryland birth certificates include a third gender marker. A third gender marker on birth certificates is crucial as it acknowledges and validates the existence of intersex people like Zzym, and potentially could destigmatize the unnecessary surgeries intersex people are forced to undergo by parents and doctors.
FreeState Justice is also working towards making it easier for transgender parents to amend their children’s birth certificates to include name and gender changes and making changes to marriage licenses.
If you would like to support FreeState’s mission, we hope you will consider getting involved. Here are some ways in which you can help:
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