Target: John Kerry, Secretary of State
Goal: Allow intersex people to obtain passports without misgendering themselves.
Earlier this year, intersex advocate and Navy veteran Dana Zzyym was denied a passport due to the deficiency of the State Department’s forms. Applicants for passports must identify themselves as either male or female. Because Dana Zzyym did not and could not identify themselves as a man or woman—their birth certificate describes their gender as unknown and they have documentation of their intersex status from the Veterans Administration—their passport application was rejected.
The Intersex Society of North America defines intersex as “a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” While many intersex people come to identify as male or female, Dana Zzyym does not. They justifiably see the situation as absurd, saying “I was honest and entered the right gender description, but now they call it incomplete. The application process itself is incomplete if it won’t allow an intersex person like me to be truthful, which you would think passport officials would want me to be.”
Instead of demanding that Dana Zzyym misrepresent their identity and their legal documents, the State Department should simply change its policies to recognize the existence of intersex people. The decision to deny Dana’s passport application is especially galling because the State Department does recognize the passports of intersex people from countries which provide access to an additional gender marker. After being denied not only a passport, but the opportunity to appeal, Dana Zzyym turned to Lambda Legal for help. Together they have filed suit against the State Department claiming that “the U.S. State Department is violating the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the federal Administrative Procedure Act, by denying Dana a passport that accurately reflects their gender.”
Instead of demanding that intersex Americans “lie on the passport application or never leave the country,” the State Department should voluntarily change its policies. It should not take a lawsuit to convince a government agency to provide citizens the same protections it grants foreigners. Tell the State Department to allow intersex people to obtain passports.
Dear Secretary of State John Kerry,
Unaccountably, Dana Zzyym was denied a passport for being an intersex person too upstanding to lie. Despite submitting a birth certificate identifying their sex as unknown and confirmation of their intersex status from the Veterans Administration, Dana’s passport application was marked as incomplete because they did not identify themselves as male or female. In their own words, “I was honest and entered the right gender description, but now they call it incomplete. The application process itself is incomplete if it won’t allow an intersex person like me to be truthful, which you would think passport officials would want me to be.”
While Dana Zzyym has filed suit to compel your staff to do the right thing and grant their passport application, you should act of your own volition to correct departmental policy. It is simply unfair to ask intersex people to “lie on the passport application or never leave the country.” As Lambda Legal says, ignoring the existence of intersex people “doesn’t make the male-or-female-only passport policy any less discriminatory.” Indeed, the recognition of foreign passports with markers for intersex people indicates that a clear path to accommodating intersex people exists. Allow intersex Americans to access passports without misgendering themselves.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: McLennon Son