Third gender option needed on legal documents

By Managing Editor

Bhumika Shrestha, a transgender activist from Nepal, made history Oct. 24 with her arrival at the 2015 International Lesbian and Gay Association’s Asia conference. 

Following years of fighting after the Nepal Supreme Court ordered the government to create a category for citizens identifying as neither male nor female in 2007, Shrestha became the first Nepal citizen to travel with a passport marked “O” for “other” as gender. Shrestha’s achievement is both a victory and a sign that self-identification can be effectively utilized as a status in gendered documents.

Sadly, Shrestha’s right to travel as gender-free has not yet been granted to U.S. citizens, who have far to go in their struggle.

On Oct. 26, Lambda Legal announced a lawsuit on behalf of Colorado resident Dana Zzyym, who was denied a passport after refusing to identify as male or female on the application. Zzyym was born intersex, a condition of having both male and female characteristics, and does not identify on the gender binary. Lawyers representing Zzyym are advocating for an “X” gender option on U.S. passport applications. 

A number of countries already offer a third gender category on their passports, including Australia, India and Bangladesh, demonstrating the option would pose no security risks if it were to be offered in the U.S. Additionally, the U.S. already accepts foreign travel documents that include a third gender category, so the introduction of a third gender category should be extended to U.S. citizens as well. 

It is a reality that not everybody identifies along the gender binary, so forcing people to choose between male and female on passport applications is discriminatory and inaccurate, compelling citizens with a different gender identity to lie about who they are.

A significant portion of the U.S. population would benefit from a third gender option being offered on passports and other legal documents. According to the U.S. affiliate of the Organization Intersex International, 1.7 percent of the world’s population is intersex. There are nearly as many intersex people as there are redheaded ones, who make up about 2 percent of the world’s population. Of course, some intersex people do identify as male or female, but this is not always the case.

The selection of a third gender option would also benefit people outside the intersex community, like those who identify as gender fluid or without a gender at all. More education regarding gender is necessary to normalize other gender identities, making the idea of a third gender option more understandable to people who identify on the gender binary.

The U.S. should follow Nepal and other countries by offering a third gender option—”other”—in its passports and should extend this to all other legal documents. Self-identification can, and should, be the only factor used when applying for legal documents to prevent discrimination and foster inclusivity in the U.S.