Gender-choice passport victory

One step forward in the larger battle

State-specific non-binary gender policies – PURPLE: Recognition via statute or policy (e.g., a non-binary option on state IDs). STRIPED: Recognition in specific case via court order. GRAY: No legal recognition. GREEN: Actively discouraging recognition.
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In a major policy change on April 11, U.S. passports now have a third gender option for people who don’t self-describe as either male or female. Dana Zzyym, a non-binary person from Colorado, fought seven years in court for this right. In December 2021, Zzyym became the first person in the country to have a passport issued with a gender of “X.” The State Department has also dropped requirements for medical documentation of gender if it differs from birth certificates.

At last, the United States now joins many other nations that allow third-gender identification on official documents, including India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Malta, Nepal, and others. Zzyym, who is also intersex (born with atypical physical sex characteristics), praised the decision, telling NPR “It’s great news for all intersex and non-binary people… We don’t have to lie to get our passports. We can just be ourselves.”

Gender choice on official documents is an important win, indeed lifesaving for many non-binary and transgender people. The last two years have seen an upsurge of anti-trans legislation and right-wing attacks on LGBTQI+ people, especially women and people of color. Bullying tactics like deadnaming (using a prior name of a transgender person) and purposeful misgendering have led to harassment, hate-crime violence, and suicide.

Other recent wins. On the national front, Census Bureau household surveys are now beginning to include third-gender identification options. And the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will update its PreCheck Program to include an “X” gender option on its applications. TSA will also begin using scanners with new technology that replaces gender-based systems, and will train screening officers to ignore gender when comparing documents.

Some state legislation took effect in California on January 1, 2022, that allows students at public colleges to determine the name they want on their diplomas and standardizes a process for updating other college records. And in Montana, a District Court judge blocked a law that required proof of surgery and a court order to change gender designation on a birth certificate. The court said that to single out only transgender individuals and disregard health privacy protections violates the state constitution.

 The fight deepens. Having a third-gender option on documents, however, is not enough. Police and coroners still misgender victims in the media, and bosses and teachers continue to use language and practices that assume only two genders. Until all vital records and documents, from driving licenses to transcripts to birth certificates, can be easily changed to match an individual’s gender identity options — without court orders and large fees — the damaging impacts will remain heaviest on people of color and poor people in general. Indeed, queried one trans activist, “Why require gender identity on any documents? It perpetuates prejudice against women.”

The far right, however, is ramping up its culture war on several fronts. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, for example, signed into law the first bill in the nation to ban non-binary markers on birth certificates. Right-wing politicians are determined to ban anything to do with LGBTQI+, non-white races and cultures, and to outlaw books written by or about them. The looming threat to women’s reproductive rights is part of this outright war. These far-right politics assume the intrinsic inferiority of anyone who is not born white, straight and male. They lay bare a simple truth — patriarchal sexism, transphobia and homophobia are as intensely menacing as white supremacy, and in cahoots with it.

This passport victory is a product of grass-roots organizing that is by no means over. Individuals must have the right to identify their gender and not have it be determined by the government.

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