‘A long time coming’: US to allow ‘X’ option on passports

The X option will be available in the future, however, another change lets applicants ‘self select’ their binary gender.

The US State Department is in the process of offering a third gender marker – “X” – on US passports for Americans who do not identify as male or female, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday.

In a statement, Blinken said that, under new rules effective immediately, passport applicants will be allowed to “self-select” their gender, “M” or “F”, without requiring medical certification if their selection does not match other issued documentation.

This is the first step towards allowing a third gender marker option – “X” – other than “M” or “F”, Blinken said, in an effort to promote “the freedom, dignity, and equality of all people”, including LGBTQ+ people.

“The Department has begun moving towards adding a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons applying for a passport or CRBA (Consular Reports of Birth Abroad),” Blinken continued, explaining that the process to add gender markers is “technologically complex” and said his department is “evaluating the best approach to achieve this goal”.

Blinken did not indicate when the new gender marker would be available.

The State Department’s website states, “We cannot provide an exact timeline for when we will begin offering a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons.”

Blinken’s announcement comes on the last day of Pride Month and is being celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community, which has argued that traditional male and female options discriminate against non-binary and intersex individuals.

Lambda Legal counsel Paul Castillo tweeted that the news “is a long time coming” for his group’s client “Dana Zzyym, an intersex and nonbinary U.S. Navy Veteran” who filed a lawsuit six years ago “to obtain an accurate passport”.

The US will join several other countries including Canada, Australia, Germany and India that offer an “X” option on passports. The move follows New York state’s announcement last week that a gender marker will be available on its driver’s licences and identification cards, joining several other states and localities that are allowing “X” on official documentation.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has shifted from his predecessor Donald Trump’s approach towards LGBTQ+ rights, kicking off his presidency in January by reversing Trump’s transgender military ban and restarting the tradition of officially recognising June as Pride Month. Trump only recognised it once during his four years in office, in 2019.

US President Joe Biden and LGBTQ advocate Ashton Mota of the GenderCool Project walk before delivering remarks to commemorate LGBTQ+ Pride Month in the White House, June 25, 2021 [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Last week, Biden marked Pride Month at the White House and designated the Pulse Nightclub a national memorial. Forty-nine were killed in a 2016 mass shooting at the gay nightclub.

Biden’s administration also features the first openly LGBTQ+ Cabinet secretary to be confirmed by the Senate: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

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