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'X' Passports in US Mark Shift Toward Respecting Gender Diversity

Move Allows Third Option in Addition to Male or Female

A U.S. Passport cover shown on May 25, 2021, in Washington, D.C.   © 2021 Eileen Putman/AP Photo

The United States government announced today it will institute a third gender category on passports, allowing citizens to choose to be designated other than male or female.

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, meaning the US joins a dozen other countries – from Canada to Malta to Nepal – that recognize more than two genders on their passports.

“We are working to add a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons as soon as possible,” the US Department of State’s website announced today.

The move comes on the heels of advocates pushing the US government to recognize more categories on passports, including the years-long legal battle of Dana Zzyym, who sued the State Department in 2015 when they were denied an X passport. The new policy states that people will not need to provide any kind of medical documentation or other “proof” to have their gender markers on their passports changed.

Non-binary identification documents are already available in 20 US states and the District of Columbia, meaning some people who carry non-binary state documents have then been forced to apply for a passport listing them as female or male. In 2020, Congressmember Ro Khanna introduced legislation, endorsed by Human Rights Watch, to mandate an “X” category on passports.

Before the 1970s, sex or 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.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the US has ratified, protects the rights to recognition before the law, privacy, and nondiscrimination. To fully respect these rights, states should not only allow people to change from “F” to “M” and vice versa; they should also provide them with an “X” or equivalent option.

The US government’s move today will have material benefits to trans and non-binary citizens, and also signal the increasing global urgency of recognizing gender diversity on official documents as a fundamental right.

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