US issues first passport with 'X' gender after five-year legal battle

28 October 2021, 07:26 | Updated: 28 October 2021, 07:28

The US has granted a passport with an "X" gender recognition for a person who identifies as intersex
The US has granted a passport with an "X" gender recognition for a person who identifies as intersex. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

The United States has issued its first passport with an "X" gender designation, after a five-year battle during which the recipient said they identified as intersex.

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The US State Department did not identify the subject of the dispute, but Dana Zzyym of Fort Collins, Colorado, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview it was their passport.

Zzyym, 63, has been in a legal battle with the government since 2015, after being denied a passport for failing to check male or female on an application.

According to court documents, they wrote "intersex" above the boxes marked "M" and "F" and requested an "X" gender marker instead in a separate letter.

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Zzyym was born with ambiguous, physical, sexual characteristics but was raised as a boy and had several surgeries that failed to make them appear fully male, according to court filings.

Zzyym served in the Navy as a male but later came to identify as intersex while working and studying at Colorado State University.

The State Department's denial of Zzyym's passport prevented them from being able to travel to a meeting of Organisation Intersex International in Mexico.

The move by the US State Department to grant the passport marks a milestone in the recognition of the rights of people who do not identify as male or female.

The US special diplomatic envoy for LGBTQ rights, Jessica Stern, said the decision brings the government documents in line with the "lived reality" that there is a wider spectrum of human sex characteristics than is reflected in the previous two designations.

"When a person obtains identity documents that reflect their true identity, they live with greater dignity and respect," Stern said.

Zzyym said that, whilst it was thrilling to finally get the passport, the goal of the legal fight was to help the next generation of intersex people win recognition as full citizens with rights.

"I'm not a problem. I'm a human being. That's the point," Zzyym said.

The US State Department said in June that it was moving toward adding a third gender marker for non-binary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people but that would take time because of required updates to its computer systems.

In addition, a department official said the passport application and system update with the "X" designation option still awaited approval from the Office of Management and Budget, which signs off on all government forms.

The department now also allows applicants to self-select their gender as male or female, no longer requiring them to provide medical certification if their gender did not match that listed on their other identification documents.

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The United States joins a handful of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Nepal and Canada, in allowing its citizens to designate a gender other than male or female on passports.

Stern said her office planned to talk about the US experience with the change in its interactions around the world and hopes that might help inspire other governments to offer the option.

"We see this as a way of affirming and uplifting the human rights of trans and intersex and gender-nonconforming and nonbinary people everywhere," she said.