From the Guardian’s global news hub
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have unveiled the first U.S. passport designed by one airline-labelled “x” gender marker, with more to follow on the way.
The “x” passport, named United State Passport on the Button because it features what would be the first X in English, could be the next frontier for equality after the landmark ruling allowing intersex people to be legally recognised as such, says Stephen Clapham of the Human Rights Law Centre, who helped carry out the research for the airline.
What may surprise many, though, is how the new passport incorporates such a radical change so smoothly. Clapham said the passport holder’s gender could be “instantly ascertained” with one simple photo. “It’ll say ‘male’. You flash up with a marker and do a picture of yourself and show the actual passport photo, and you’re identified as male,” he said.
“If you were born in a different country, and you had a different passport issued by a different airport, say, you might need to re-type your gender,” Clapham said. The low-cost airline has also branded each new X gender passport it produces with what is ahem, gender-neutral tags.
“You can describe your passport holder with labels saying ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘other’,” said United spokesman Andrew Christie.
United and American airlines have not experienced serious issues with gender recognition on paper. This is the latest announcement of a computer-slogan based “x” gender marker by the international governing body of passports, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
A biometric passport, officially announcing gender via its X gender markers, is not in the offing. But when it is, it has the potential to connect directly into the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community’s fight for legal recognition of sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Law Centre’s Karen Reissmann.
Reissmann expects to see an “exponential increase” in the number of people around the world filing petitions for marriage equality.
US residents may already use their “sex-specific” birth certificates to legally marry partners, if the individuals consent. But a sex-specific gender reference on a passport is a clear statement of identity.
Women, and some of their male partners, have welcomed the move. Tom Phillips, chief executive of Glenda & Rex, a company that connects clients with designers, exponents and other qualified personnel, is part of a growing number of gay men who now take pride in identifying their gender as female rather than male.
Born and raised in London, he no longer felt attracted to the opposite sex and did not experience any problems. “There have always been people who have identified as female for a number of reasons, from not having to use the gender-specific pronouns, to simply not being attracted to the opposite sex.”
Phillips added that any passport in which gender was referred to as well-defined, was “completely correct”.
A transgender woman was on the way to Toronto on Monday to apply for her first passport at an ICAO registration centre in Ontario, a departure from the usual launch of the transgender community’s paper documents in other countries, Reissmann said.
Naturism was one of the reasons women in the UK had been slower to come to terms with gender by using passports, Reissmann said. She had been told by ICAO officials, “we are quite unsure of how to refer to you”, before coming to their offices for a gender reference.
Representatives of Intersex Awareness Canada had contacted their members of the movement to recommend Reissmann and Clapham. “Some of our members are proud of being natural female,” she said. “They probably aren’t going to be terribly thrilled with their gender marker, either.
“In places like Canada, the federal government does have a policy of allowing a person to self-identify a gender marker. So is it discriminatory or offensive to regulate a person’s gender by saying a passport should have X on it?”
Reissmann said although many employers were now more accepting of gay people, it could be difficult for anyone in the LGBT community who felt “trapped” by something having to do with gender.
She had received some flak for the research, which ran around the clock for five days from Sunday until Tuesday, but said she and the researchers had worked around the clock to complete the projects quickly. The target is to release a total of 200 passports by June.
“We are hoping this will be embraced,” Reissmann said. “We think there’s a