It may just seem like a little blue booklet, but as anyone who has ever lost one will tell you, your passport is one of the most important pieces of identification you can have. Besides being the document you need to enter any other foreign country, it can also be used as proof of citizenship and provide important proof of your name, age, and appearance. But a recent policy shift announced by the State Department means that a major change is about to come to American passports and the process of applying for one. Read on to see what will be different about the all-important travel document.
The process of selecting your gender when applying for American passports will change.
According to a statement released on June 30 by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Americans applying for passports will be able to choose their gender as "M" or "F" without requiring medical certification. It also allows applicants to choose whichever gender regardless of what is marked on their other identity documents. The announcement changes a previous State Department policy that required a doctor's certification that a person had transitioned or were in the process of transitioning to change their gender on official documents.
"Today, I am pleased to announce that the Department will be taking further steps toward ensuring the fair treatment of LGBTQI+ U.S. citizens, regardless of their gender or sex, by beginning the process of updating our procedures for the issuance of U.S. Passports and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBA)," Blinken said in the statement.
A third gender option will also be added to the passport application process.
The Department also announced that it would soon be rolling out the option for a third gender besides "male" or "female" that gender-nonconforming, nonbinary, and intersex Americans will be able to select on their passport applications. Instead, the marker will reportedly be an "X," The 19th reports.
However, Blinken's statement clarified that the third gender option would not be immediately available, saying in the statement that "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." A source within the Department says that the option will likely become available by the end of the year, The 19th reports.
Other countries and some states already allow for a third gender option on passports and IDs.
The major policy change on the federal level comes after 20 states and Washington, D.C. have already enacted the use of "X" as a gender option. And more than a half-dozen other countries—including Canada, Australia, Argentina, Nepal, and New Zealand—have adopted similar policies, according to The New York Times.
Advocates say the changes will make border crossings and other interactions with officials less confusing or daunting. "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," Emily O'Hara, a spokesperson for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization GLAAD, told The Times.
"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 admitted. "So it feels easier just not to even risk it."
The policy change was heralded by LGBTQ advocacy groups.
News of the policy change was applauded in a statement by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the country's largest LGBTQ advocacy group, which said that the new options would "decrease the risk of discrimination, harassment, and violence for an already vulnerable group."
"This is an important step towards achieving meaningful progress for LGBTQ equality in America, and will empower and enable millions of citizens to travel domestically and internationally with greater confidence that the United States recognizes their gender identity," Alphonso David, HRC President, said in the statement, while also calling for the U.S. to "encourage other nations to adopt inclusive policies that support non-binary and transgender people."