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M, F or X? Gender-fluid Americans soon allowed to choose on passport applications

  • NEW YORK TIMES / MARCH 30
                                People in support of transgender rights rally outside the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala.

    NEW YORK TIMES / MARCH 30

    People in support of transgender rights rally outside the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala.

WASHINGTON >> Mary Emily O’Hara has not left the United States in more than three years, waiting to apply for a passport that will allow gender to be marked with an X.

O’Hara identifies as nonbinary, or someone who does not consider themselves to be male or female. O’Hara’s driver’s license, issued in Oregon, already declares a gender of X. Having a United States passport marked with an M or an F would not only feel wrong, O’Hara said, but it could also risk accusations of carrying falsified documents that contradict other forms of identification.

That will change under a new Biden administration rule, announced Wednesday, that will create a gender marker on passports and citizenship certificates for people who identify as nonbinary or intersex, or otherwise do not conform to traditional gender roles.

The process is complex and will take time to complete, according to a statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken that was issued on the last day of Pride Month.

But O’Hara, 45, is already looking forward to a trip to Costa Rica sometime in the not-too-distant future.

“Now that I know that it’s coming, I definitely want to wait for one that feels closest to my authentic self, and so that I can have a passport that matches a driver’s license that I carry around in my wallet every day,” said O’Hara, who lives in Portland and is a spokesperson for GLAAD, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization.

Otherwise, “I just think it’s very confusing to have IDs that don’t say the same thing, and I’m honestly not sure whether I would be breaking the law,” O’Hara said. “So it feels easier just not to even risk it.”

In the meantime, Americans who are applying for passports and proof of citizenship when born abroad will no longer need to show medical certification if their stated gender does not match their other identification documents.

Until Wednesday, the State Department had required a doctor’s certificate stating that passport applicants had transitioned, or were in the process, to change their gender on official consular documents. A spokesperson said that rule was no longer in effect.

“With this action, I express our enduring commitment to the LGBTQI+ community today and moving forward,” Blinken said in Wednesday’s statement.

More than a half-dozen other countries — including Canada, Australia, Argentina, Nepal and New Zealand — have adopted similar policies, and O’Hara said 20 U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow gender on driver’s licenses to be identified with an X.

The move fulfills a campaign promise by President Joe Biden, who has raised concerns that without documented proof of their self-identified gender, transgender and nonbinary people risk being denied employment, housing and other benefits, including the right to vote.

It also responds to a lawsuit that required the State Department last year to review its earlier denial of a passport applicant who wanted their gender marked with an X.

“These changes continue the long-term trend that liberalizes policies governing gender marker changes on identity documents,” said Jami Taylor, a political science professor at the University of Toledo and an expert on LGBT politics.

Since taking office, the Biden administration has embraced policies that follow the so-called do no harm doctrine in support of LGBT people.

In May, the State Department reversed another policy that had disproportionally affected LGBTQ families, and granted U.S. citizenship to babies born abroad to married couples with at least one American parent — no matter which parent was biologically related to the child.

That policy, a victory for same-sex couples, effectively guaranteed that American and binational couples who use assisted reproductive technology to give birth overseas — such as surrogates or sperm donations — can pass along citizenship to their children.

At a forum later Wednesday on diversity and inclusion in diplomacy, two veteran ambassadors from Britain and the United States discussed government personnel policies that only a few decades ago had discriminated against foreign service officers in both nations.

Karen Pierce, the British ambassador to the United States, noted that Britain had since appointed gay, lesbian and gender-fluid envoys. “Obviously there’s more to do, but I think we’re going in a pretty good direction on that,” she said.

Obstacles for LGBT envoys and their families, she said, include postings to nations where cultures are hesitant toward gay rights at best and perilous at worst. “We do try to work to find a solution,” Pierce said during the forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It isn’t always possible, I’m afraid.”

At the State Department, officials are not supposed to ask colleagues about their gender identification as part of what Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the department’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, described as fostering a more inclusive atmosphere among the American diplomatic corps.

“We cannot ask anybody who they are, what group they belong to — they must let us know,” Abercrombie-Winstanley said. “It is a message that I have been saying from Day 1, and will continue to amplify.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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