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Gender Activist Wins Right to Challenge Passport Decision

Equality activist Christie Elan-Cane won permission this week to challenge the UK’s Home Office on the issue of gender-neutral passports.

In a decision from Mr Justice Gilbart of the UK high court, Elan-Cane, who has campaigned for the change for over 25 years, was granted a full judicial review surrounding gender signifiers on UK passports. Currently, British citizens are categorized by the traditional options of ‘male’ and ‘female’, but this hearing will go towards deciding whether a third, gender-neutral one should be offered.

Ten other countries have already established gender-neutral (or ‘X’) passports, including Pakistan, India, Ireland, Nepal, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany and Malta. Canada followed suit most recently.

 Credit: Chris Fleming

Credit: Chris Fleming

Over the past decade, the UK’s track record on transgender and gender nonconforming rights has been mixed. The implementation of the 2005 Gender Recognition Act gave transgender people the opportunity to decide their own gender on their birth certificate provided they are approved by the Gender Recognition Panel. Explicit legislation in the 2010 Equality Act aimed to protect people against discrimination in the form of harassment and victimization, as well as exclusionary rules, practices and procedures.

Despite these legislative changes, transphobia persists in everyday life. Last month, a study released by YouGov and the leading LGBT charity Stonewall revealed that two in five transgender people experienced a hate crime, or an incident related to their gender identity, in the previous 12 months. Four out of five of these victims did not report events to the police for fear of not being taken seriously.

Access to appropriate medical care is also limited. Reassignment surgery, though offered on the National Health Service (NHS), can have a wait list of up to three years due to a severe lack of clinics and medical professionals that are able to carry out the procedure. Furthermore, the majority of transgender people seeking reassignment surgery must commit to at least a year of “Real-Life Experience” in an effort to “prove” their dedication to their chosen identity.

 Credit: Benson Kua/Wikicommons

Credit: Benson Kua/Wikicommons

This week, however, the success of Christie Elan-Cane has given the LGBTQIA+ community cause to celebrate.

“We are pleased to see Christie Elan-Cane’s case reach the High Court. Trans people face unnecessary obstacles in everyday situations because of the way gender is recorded on official documents and records. This includes the use of gender markers on passports,” explained Stonewall in a statement issued to IR Insider.  

The charity also addressed the practical and emotional difficulties associated specifically with passports.

“Many trans people are afraid to travel abroad for fear of intrusive questioning or difficulties at passport control. In addition, non-binary people are not recognised or protected under law. Official documents ask people to describe their gender as male or female, often providing no other option, even when gender has limited or no relevance to the purpose of the document. We are calling for all national and local government documents to accurately reflect gender identity, including an X category on forms and passports.”

 Credit: Katy Blackwood/Wikicommons

Credit: Katy Blackwood/Wikicommons

In other news this week, the UK’s Office for National Statistics said it will consider making the ‘sex’ question on census forms voluntary after their research found it to be "irrelevant, unacceptable and intrusive, particularly to trans participants, due to asking about sex rather than gender."

This week’s events signal a definite move in the expansion of rights for transgender and gender-nonconforming people, giving them the opportunity to accurately express themselves on two significant forms of official identification. However, there is still a long way to go. For now, the transgender community must exercise a skill they have likely perfected: patience.