August 24, 2018

On July 28, multiple news sites reported that the US Department of State was revoking transgender individuals’ passports following travelers’ widely shared posts on social media. In one of the reported cases, the US government allegedly retroactively revoked a transgender woman’s passport gender change and requested she provide an updated medical certification from a physician. In another highly cited case, a transgender woman was denied a passport renewal even though she was previously issued a passport that indicated her gender identity. Despite these accounts, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, there have been no recent changes to the government’s passport gender designation policy. The organization reports that the cases cited in the past couple months are considered “unusual circumstances” and involved passport agency errors.

The Current Passport Policy

The standing 2010 passport gender change policy was most recently updated in 2011 and provides that transgender individuals may obtain a passport that reflects their gender identity by providing medical documentation of gender transition. Transgender passport applicants are no longer required to showproof of medical sex reassignment procedures, and medical certification documents do not need to include specific treatments undergone. Transgender individuals can apply for a passport that is valid for 10 years or, if currently undergoing gender transition treatment, a two-year limited-validity passport.

According to the US Department of State website, transgender individuals seeking a gender designation change on their passports must provide the typical passport documents as well as:

  • Identification that resembles the traveler’s current presentation
  • A recent passport photo that resembles the traveler’s current presentation
  • Medical certification from a physician that indicates the individual is currently undergoing or has undergone clinical treatment for gender transition
  • If applicable, proof of name change (Order for Name Change)

Third Gender Designation

Multiple states have passed legislation in the past couple years to include a third gender designation, including Oregon, the District of Colombia, and California, which is likely to increase pressure on the government to include a third gender designation on official identification. The US Department of State currently only allows applicants to indicate either male or female gender designations and has denied passports to individuals who indicated intersex or “X” designations in the past. Government officials and lawyers have indicated that a third gender designation on US passports could cause issues for transgender travelers, such as targeted harassment by foreign authorities, when traveling to countries that only recognize binary designations.

Tips for Transgender Travelers

Despite no official changes to the government’s policies, we suggest that transgender travelers take the following steps:

  • Make sure their name and designated gender on ticket reservations are the same as those on their photo IDs.
  • Bring all relevant medical paperwork, as well as any relevant legal documents, and keep it on hand while traveling.
  • Do not bring up their transgender status to airport officials unless necessary to avoid unneeded confusion.
  • When able, use online flight check-in and electronic tickets to minimize the number of in-person identification checks.
  • Allow additional time for check-in and security should there be any delays in processing.
  • Contact their local embassy if they encounter problems while overseas.

In gradual transitions, travelers with notable disparities between appearance and their paperwork may open themselves up to additional scrutiny during airport processing. Transgender travelers concerned with undertaking international travel can also seek out LGBTQ rights groups, which are able to provide counseling and advice.

Additional Resources for Transgender Travelers

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