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New federal policy makes it easier for transgender people to list gender changes on passports

WASHINGTON – The transgender community is applauding the U.S. State Department’s new passport guidelines regarding gender changes.

The new policy, which goes into effect today, allows applicants to change his or her gender on the passport by presenting certification from a physician that the applicant has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition, and can obtain a limited-validity passport if the physician indicates that the applicant is in the process of gender transition.

Previously, applicants had to present a physician certification that he or she had completed gender reassignment surgery.

The new rules are more consistent with passport gender-change procedures in other nations, as well as policies regarding other identity documents, such as driver’s licenses and birth certificates, in a number of states.

“Today’s policy change will allow many more transgender Americans to obtain an important identity document that accurately reflects their true identity and to travel with less fear of discrimination and harassment,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). “We thank the State Department for taking this important step and congratulate the many organizations that have pushed for this historic change in policy.”

HRC included revising the passport gender change policy as part of its Blueprint for Positive Change, a series of policy recommendations to the Obama administration. In addition, fellow members of the Council for Global Equality, particularly the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, have lobbied the State Department to institute this important change.

The NTCE called the decision a significant advance in providing safe, humane and dignified treatment of transgender people.

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

For years, NCTE has been advocating with the State Department to change their rules about gender markers on passports and Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA), the equivalent of a birth certificate for U.S. citizens born outside the United States. Previously the State Department had required proof of irreversible sex reassignment surgery before the gender marker could be changed, although there were exceptions for temporary, provisional passports to allow someone to travel for surgery.

NCTE and other advocates have stressed with the State Department that this 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 is outed as transgender in an unwelcoming environment or in the presence of prejudiced security personnel.

In the next few days, NCTE will be issuing a definitive resource that fully explains the new guidelines and outlines the ways in which transgender people can make changes to their passports and CRBAs.

Many people -- from elected officials to LGBT advocates -- have worked for years to change these policies and deserve credit and thanks. Particularly important work was done by Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Steve Israel in the House of Representatives; Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, which represents LGBT employees and their families working in foreign affairs offices for the U.S. government; all of our allied LGBT organizations who have been committed to this work, including the Center for Global Equality, The Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign; and those working on medical policies, including the American Medical Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, also hailed the policy change.

“By issuing this policy change, the State Department has recognized that transgender people need to be able to travel and live with identity documents that accurately reflect who they are," she said. "The old policy regularly put transgender people at increased risk for harassment and violence. This update will go a long way to rectify this problem. We thank the State Department for taking this important step, and all the organizations that worked together to advocate for this change.”