Some countries allow changing passport gender, but the US lags behind

(CNN) – When Gemma Hickey tried to travel to Ontario in January 2017 with a Canadian passport with a woman, airport staff asked her.

Hickey – who appears as a “trans male non-binary” and uses pronouns – had to verify their gender in other ways, which extended the boarding process. And that didn’t stop additional questions as soon as Hickey sat down.

“It was very uncomfortable, especially for my mother. For me, I have been an activist for so long, I am used to this kind of situation,” said Hickey, author of Almost Feral, a book about Hickey’s journey into realizing that she is transsexual.

Hickey medically began the transition from a woman to a non-binary in December 2015. “And, of course, (I) was going to Ontario for surgery. So, obviously, I was quite vulnerable.”

Hickey is based in Newfoundland and Labrador, but transgender, non-binary, and transgender people around the world who travel without documents that reflect their true identities have been exposed to skepticism, harassment, violence, and alienation. The US is no exception. President Joe Biden has promised to rely on the policies of the Obama era, allowing any transgender, middle-aged or non-binary person to choose to change their passport gender to X instead of M or F, but this has not yet happened. The American Civil Liberties Union’s “The People The People” campaign – which includes a report with more than 72,000 signatures since March 16 – urges Biden to issue executive order to implement change for all federal identification documents and records.

But while U.S. activists continue to push for change in this area, other countries have made progress beyond the male-female dual gender in passports – though not without challenges.

A world beyond the lady and the Fs

Hickey said the experience on the 2017 Ontario flight strengthened their resolve to obtain an X-rated passport. They began by applying for a new X-ray birth certificate, which Hickey applied for without requiring medical certification.

Hickey received his new birth certificate in 2017 and his new passport in 2018. Hickey’s efforts also helped pave the way for more widespread change: The Canadian government officially began allowing X to have IDs in June 2019.

The X-marked passport “made traveling easier,” Hickey said. “I was very happy to report, after the fact, that I had no problems, especially for young people out there who are worried about it.”

At least eight countries, including Canada, have legalized third-party IDs and allowed their citizens to change the gender of their passport without validation from anyone other than the person who wants the change. For the past decade or so, Argentina, Australia, Denmark, Iceland, Nepal and New Zealand have applied X and O ratios (for “others”) to whomever they choose.

Alexander Cohen, press secretary for Marco Mendicino, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said in an email that the changes had been “implemented effectively without problems”.

This passport sample from Iceland shows the gender neutral choice X. This passport sample is not used and the personal information displayed is not real.

Registers Iceland

The year after implementation, he added, there were 286 applications for the gender X index in passports and other travel documents in Canada. In Iceland, there have been 194 changes in gender registration in the Icelandic population register, said Margrét Hauksdóttir, CEO of Iceland registries, via email.

Other countries approach the issue in a stricter way or not at all. In Malta, it was not necessary to have either sexual intercourse or hormone therapy, but applicants may need to be notarized as a witness. Countries that allow some kind of gender index in passports but may require medical certifications or other documents or procedures include Austria, Colombia, Germany, India, Ireland and the Netherlands. A UK court ruled in March 2020 that the British government’s policy of requiring a gender rating of M or F was legal at present.

Currently, if an American citizen wants to change the gender of his or her passport, he or she must provide medical certification that they have passed from man to woman or vice versa. Therefore, a person can only choose male or female – a choice that excludes middle-class people, non-binary people and transgender people who do not simply identify as men or women.

Those who are “in the process of receiving appropriate clinical treatment for a man-to-woman transition” or vice versa are eligible, based on what the individual’s doctor believes is appropriate clinical treatment, according to the State Department. But the passport for this group is only valid for two years.

“Across the United States, the process of updating your legal name and gender index is extremely complex, cumbersome, costly and difficult for many people to access,” said Arli Christian, ACLU National Campaign Strategy Officer. who is leading ACLU’s efforts to push Biden’s administration. “Our government does not need to ask about our medical care or our personal needs.”

“Non-binary people, people who are not men or women, exist and are here and need proper documentation as well,” Christian added. “Asking a non-binary person to fill out a form and declare themselves male or female when none of these options are appropriate is forcing them to lie and humiliate … It is really important for the US to recognize this.”

Roadblocks in Xs and Os

Even countries that offer a third-choice option in passports cannot guarantee that entry, transit or legal protection will be allowed by other countries’ border control authorities.

People with these passports may first need to check with the embassies of the destinations they intend to visit about their eligibility. Otherwise, they could face denial of entry, fines, degrading treatment such as interrogation and / or physical search, detention or prosecution.

“While Canadians with an ‘X’ gender ID do not need to specify anything else in their passports,” Cohen said, women when traveling. “

Detailed advice on other countries’ laws and customs, violence and discrimination, safety and other precautionary advice for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, interracial and non-binary people can be found at Smartraveller, a blog by Australian and Australian Foreign Ministers.

In the United States, which lags behind Canada, Australia and other nations in addressing this issue, “gender and gender-limited understanding is an outdated understanding,” Christian said. “For many centuries, people have understood that there are many sexes.”

Not every transsexual, transgender or non-binary person is a fan of the X or O options. Some people in these groups prefer to be recognized specifically for who they are and for the indicators to reflect that.

As an activist, Hickey was accustomed to harassment, violent threats and material damage caused by hatred, they said. The emergence of non-binary and media attention in Hickey’s birth certificate case has led to an increase in hate mail and threats of violence, sexual violence and death. But “the result was so satisfying,” Hickey said.

“When I had my passport in hand, I felt like I had wings in more ways than one. … I felt that the possibilities were endless, that I could go anywhere as a true self and there was room for me, and I felt happier.” said Hickey.

“Not just for me personally, but for all these young people I work with, who are struggling with gender, who now have room. … There is always work to be done. But I felt that this day was definitely a day celebration. ”

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