Passport Application Woes for Transgender People In USA

A passport is a document of identification for everyone, people of all age groups and all genders. Like all people, transgender people in United States need proper identity documentation. Identification issued by the government of the country is important for applying to college or for a job, for financial transactions, interactions with law enforcement and even for going through airport security checks.

The state identification documents can be updated to the requested gender, but there are complexities in the process which vary from one state to another. The documentation must be done with a grading system as mentioned in the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). As per the Transgender Law Center, birth certificates are not modifiable at all places. If you want to change names on birth certificates or state IDs, you would need to produce a separate name change court order. For this you will have to face a judge in court and convince the judge to grant the order.

This is where passports come into the picture. For most people, the US passport, which is issued by the State Department, is the best way of obtaining a government-issued photo ID. In June 2010, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton, instituted a policy which said that for getting a gender marker change on a passport, one would only need a doctor’s letter which would certify “clinical treatment” for “facilitating gender change” as mentioned by NCTE.

As per the website of the Department of State, the doctor of the applicant will be able to determine what is meant by appropriate clinical treatment. However, there is no specific mention of the gender-affirming surgeries, which were included in the requirements. The change in the policy has been received with much fanfare by the transgender community as an improvement in the process of getting correct identification documents during the transition including gender marker changes.

However, the reality is not as simple as it seems. There are almost 7400 facilities, which accept passport applications in the United States. There is no clear answer if all these facilities have received specialized training on gender marker changes. Almost a dozen transgender applicants were questioned on successful or unsuccessful gender marker changes on passport. When seen at a whole, it was understood the applicants faced fickle and inconsistent bureaucracy while making the application. Many opined that even if the application was accepted, there would be minimum one rejection from the State Department. Innumerable attempts have been made to get the changes accepted in the passport.

Various kinds of issues are being reported by transgender people for getting gender markers changed on their passports. Two transgender women complained that their passports had been revoked retroactively after issuance with gender marker changes. A State Department spokesperson also offered that some transgender people had difficulties in getting their passports renewed. The State Department also said that there has been no change in practice or policy regarding adjudication of passport applications for applicants who are transgender. A transgender woman complained that the letter which her doctor had sent to the State Department was rejected in an outright manner. She had made the application in June and the rejection came the month after in July.

Apart from this, there are cases where the original documentation is ‘lost’ and this is no doubt quite disastrous. A transgender man in USA also said of rejection of two letters by the US State Department. The first letter was from Planned Parenthood clinic, from where he received hormone replacement therapy. The second letter was from a psychiatrist, who excelled in writing such letters and his letters had been accepted by the State Department on previous occasions. Sometimes the entire gender marker change application along with the associated paperwork disappeared completely. This harassment has been endured by innumerable transgender people in the US.
Many transgender people managed to get their passports after making several attempts. Along with the attempts, there came additional pressure and threats from various sectors. There are some reasons for rejection of the application. Some people are fill out the forms incorrectly or even fill out the wrong form. However, when the form is filled out in the right manner and proper documentation is provided, many transgender people have received their passport after many attempts.

It has been seen that in many cases, there is no particular reason given as to why the application is being cancelled. Even officials at the State Department could not provide a valid and legitimate response as to why the application was rejected. Some transgender people then took the initiative of visiting the civil rights office and meeting with the inspector general to seek a solution to the problem. And they were assured that their applications would be reviewed in order to advise them of the reason their application was rejected. To much surprise, many such people received calls from the State Department saying that there were no faults in their passport applications and that they would be processed soon.

Again, there are many transgender people who could apply for new US passport and received the same without any kind of hassle. The passport came with correct gender markers at the first application.

The experiences that transgender people have shared regarding obtaining a passport in USA has been a matter of grave concern for the US Department of State as well as for National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). Bureaucratic errors and unusual circumstances have been seen to be the main reasons behind the whole problem. It has been announced clearly that there have been no changes in the passport gender marker policy. The NCTE is keeping a close watch on the proceedings in the matter of passport application and processing for transgender people.

Passports are a valuable asset for all, including transgender people. Help and assistance is readily available from various organizations if you face any kind of problem while applying for your passport with passport gender marker. Help is available even when you are in an emergency and need same day passport with the gender marker.