In honor of Trans Visibility Day, Americans applying for passports will be able to identify with the gender designation “X” beginning April 11, according to the State Department. The change aims to make federal documents more inclusive of transgender, intersex, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming individuals.
The State Department’s Douglass Benning, principal deputy assistant secretary for consular affairs, told reporters, “We’re setting a precedent as the first US federal government agency to offer the ‘X’ gender marker on an identity document.”
Applicants will be able to choose gender “X” on their passport application form, even if their gender on their birth certificate or other documents does not match.
The US is not the first country to implement such a policy. Before making the announcement, State Department officials consulted with counterparts in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, among others.
While the gender “X” marker will be available for routine services starting next month, the State Department plans to make it available for other documents in late 2023, including passport cards, expedited, and consular reports of birth abroad.
Jessica Stern, US Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) Persons, explained, “The X means unspecified or another gender identity.”
While the policy change recognizes the passport holder’s “true identity,” it does not create new definitions or rights, according to Stern. “Having a ‘X’ gender marker option is important because human beings do not always fit into a male or female category around the world,” Stern said. “The lived realities of transgender intersex, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming persons reflect that there is a broader spectrum of humanity than is represented by a binary sex designation on passports.”
After Dana Zzyym, an intersex and nonbinary Colorado resident, filed a federal lawsuit in 2016, the State Department previewed the change. After years of lobbying the State Department to include a “X” gender marker option on U.S. passport applications, the activist and U.S. Navy veteran filed suit.
In October 2021, Zzyym, who was named in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit, received the first passport of its kind. Gender identity is not asked about in the US Census. However, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, there are approximately 1.2 million nonbinary LGBTQ adults in the United States.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will implement gender-neutral screening procedures at airport checkpoints in the coming months, with the goal of reducing false alarms and invasive pat-downs.
Jose Bonilla, executive director of traveler engagement at the TSA’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, said, “Our goal is to touch less and rely on technology.”
According to the TSA, reducing those alarms will result in less touching and physical interaction between TSA agents and the traveling public. The TSA received an additional $18.6 million in fiscal year 2022 to develop and test the new technology.
Transgender and gender-nonconforming travelers have historically been subjected to more frequent and intrusive searches at airport checkpoints than their cisgender counterparts due to technological flaws and a lack of TSA staff training.
After a U.S.-bound passenger attempted to blow up a plane on Christmas Day 2009 by hiding plastic explosives in his underwear, the agency created in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks began replacing metal detectors with full-body scanners.
However, LGBTQ activists have long urged the TSA to update screening procedures that disproportionately affect transgender travelers. According to a 2015 survey of transgender Americans conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 43 percent of those who had gone through airport security had encountered a problem related to their gender identity at the checkpoint.
TSA Pre-Check applicants will be able to select a “X” gender marker during the application process, in addition to updated screening measures.
Two major domestic airlines, according to the TSA, have followed suit. Beginning March 31, American and United Airlines’ travel reservation systems will include gender options such as “X” and “U.” Similar options will be available later this year, according to Delta.