The US State Department announced that it has issued its first passport with an “X” gender designation – a watershed moment in recognizing the rights of people who do not identify as male or female – and hopes to expand the choice next year.
The US joins a select group of countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Canada, and Nepal, allowing people to specify their passports as male or female.
Jessica Stern, the United States’ special diplomatic envoy for LGBTQ rights, described the changes as “historic and joyous,” noting that they align government papers with the “lived reality” of a broader spectrum of human sex characteristics than reflected in the previous two designations.
“When an individual obtains identity credentials that accurately reflect their genuine identity, they can live with more dignity and respect,” Stern explained.
The department made no mention of who received the passport. A department spokesman declined to clarify whether it was for Dana Zzyym, an intersex Colorado resident who has been fighting the agency in court since 2015, stating that the department typically does not discuss individual passport applications due to privacy issues.
Zzyym (pronounced Zimm) was denied a passport after failing to indicate on an application whether he was male or female. Zzyym reportedly put “intersex” above the “M” and “F” boxes and sought an “X” gender marker in a second letter.
According to court records, Zzyym was born with indeterminate physical, sexual traits but was raised as a boy and underwent various procedures that failed to make him appear masculine. Zzyym served as a male in the Navy but later identified as intersex while working and studying at Colorado State University. Zzyym could not attend a meeting of Organization Intersex International in Mexico due to the department’s refusal of his passport.
In June, the State Department indicated that it was considering introducing a third gender marker for nonbinary, intersex, and gender-nonconforming individuals, but that the process would take time due to significant computer system modifications. According to a department official, the passport application and system update with the “X” designation option must still be approved by the Office of Management and Budget, which reviews all federal forms.
Additionally, the agency now permits candidates to self-identify as male or female, eliminating the need to provide medical certification if their gender did not match that on their other identity documents.
Stern stated that her office intended to discuss the United States’ experience with the shift in its global relations hoping that it might inspire other nations to provide the choice.
“We see this as an opportunity to affirm and advance the human rights of transgender, intersex, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary persons worldwide,” she explained.