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The U.S. Will Add A 3rd Gender Option On Passports

Dana Zzyym (right), seen here in 2015, sued the State Department to seek more gender options for passports. The department announced Wednesday it will add an option besides male or female.
David Zalubowski
Dana Zzyym (right), seen here in 2015, sued the State Department to seek more gender options for passports. The department announced Wednesday it will add an option besides male or female.

Starting immediately, an applicant for a U.S. passport can simply check "M" or "F" as their gender – without needing to provide medical certification if that gender doesn't match their other documents. And soon applicants will have the option to select a gender marker that isn't male or female, the State Department said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the changes as "further steps toward ensuring the fair treatment of LGBTQI+ U.S. citizens, regardless of their gender or sex." The moves will also fulfill a Biden campaign promise.

It will take some time to create a third gender option on passports, the State Department warned. People cannot yet apply for a passport with a nonbinary, intersex or gender nonconforming gender marker.

"The process of adding a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons to these documents is technologically complex and will take time for extensive systems updates," Blinken said.

The department said it will work closely with its interagency partners to make sure the travel experience is as smooth as possible for the passport holder. Blinken said the U.S. consulted with "like-minded governments" that had undertaken similar changes.

LGBTQ rights organization Lambda Legal expressed disappointment at the lack of a firm date for the new gender marker but said it was nonetheless a victory for its client, Dana Zzyym, who has been fighting for years for additional gender markers on U.S. passports.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also pushed for the Biden administration to issue transgender, intersex and nonbinary people accurate federal IDs.

Zzyym is intersex and nonbinary, and the application for a U.S. passport requires the applicant select either "male" or "female." While some intersex people identify as male or female, Zzyym does not.

Zzyym has a driver's license in Colorado, where they live, with "X" listed as their gender. But getting a passport with their accurate gender – neither male nor female — has been impossible.

In a lawsuit, Lambda Legal argues the State Department is violating Zzyym's constitutional rights by denying them a passport that accurately reflects their gender.

In an interview with NPR, Zzyym called the State Department's moves a welcome relief.

"It's great news for all intersex and nonbinary people, because it basically says that we can get our passports," Zzyym said. "We don't have to lie to get our passports. We can just be ourselves."

Several countries already issue passports with gender markers other than "F" or "M," including Canada, Australia, India, Malta, Nepal and New Zealand. "X" is the most common third option.

The changes will be a great thing for them — and for a lot of people, Zzyym said. "They can move forward in their lives. They don't have to explain things to people. And they can say, 'Hey, I do exist as intersex or as nonbinary.' They shouldn't have to explain."

Zzyym's court case is ongoing. But Wednesday's news wouldn't have happened without the efforts of a lot of activists, Zzyym said: "It's been a long time coming."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.