Activists applaud new policy on passports, gender

Posted on 10 Jun 2010 at 5:55pm
By From Staff Reports editor@dallasvoice.com

NCTE’s Keisling calls change in guidelines a ‘significant advance’


Mara Keisling

The U.S. Department of State this week announced new policy guidelines on when gender markers can be changed on passports, drawing praise across the board from LGBT activists.

Under the new guidelines, transgender travelers no longer are required to have undergone gender reassignment surgery before they can change the gender marker on their passport.

Now, an applicant need only present certification from an attending medical physician stating that the applicant has undergone "appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition," according to a statement released Wednesday, June 9, by the Department of State.

"It is also possible to obtain a limited-validity passport if the physician’s statement shows the applicant is in the process of gender transition. No additional medical records are needed," the State Department release said.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a statement released Thursday, June 10, called the change "a significant advance in providing safe, human and dignified treatment of transgender people."

Keisling said trans rights activists had been advocating for the policy change "for years," adding that the previous policy "unnecessarily called attention to transgender travelers whose appearance and gender marker were at odds. In some destinations, this had the potential to create an extremely dangerous situation when a traveler was outed as transgender in an unwelcoming environment or in the presence of prejudiced security personnel."

The State Department had previously required proof of irreversible gender reassignment surgery before changing the gender marker, although exceptions were made for temporary provisional passports for those traveling abroad to undergo reassignment surgery, Keisling noted.

"We want to extend our thanks to the Obama administration and particularly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for understanding the need for this change and then responding to make travel safer for transgender people," Keisling said. "This shows how changes in government policy directly impact people’s lives, in this case, for the better."

Michael D. Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, also noted the "extreme danger" trans people faced when traveling abroad.

"Adoption of this safety-focused policy is a giant step forward in protecting transgender Americans abroad, and in fulfilling the State Department’s commitment to protect all Americans when they travel, work or live overseas," Silverman said.

In its press release announcing the change, the State Department also said that a "Consular Report of Birth Abroad" can also be amended with a new gender, and promised that, "As with all passport applicants, passport issuing officers at embassies and consulates abroad and domestic passport agencies and centers will ask only appropriate questions to obtain information necessary to determine citizenship and identity.

State Department officials said the new policy are based on recommendations of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 11, 2010.

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