UK passports should offer gender neutral option 'X', urge LGBT campaigners

LGBT rights group Stonewall warns many people who define themselves as transgender in the UK are 'afraid to travel abroad' because they fear intrusive questions at passport control

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The Independent Online

UK passports should give the option for people to define themselves as gender neutral “X” as an alternative to male or female, campaigners have urged.

LGBT rights group Stonewall has called for the measure to be introduced, warning that many people who define themselves as transgender in the UK are “afraid to travel abroad” because they fear intrusive questions at passport control.

The group made the call as part of a five-year plan launched on Wednesday with the aim of creating equality for transgender people in Britain, of whom there are an estimated 650,000.

The plan, outlined in a document titled ‘A Vision for Change’, aims to ensure all transgender people in Britain can live full authentic lives at home, at work and in public, free from discrimination or abuse.

Stonewall warns that transgender people can face unnecessary obstacles in everyday situations because of the way gender is recorded on official documents and the processes in place to change recorded gender, including the use of gender markers on passports.

The report states: “Many trans people are afraid to travel abroad for fear of intrusive questioning or difficulties at passport control. This can be especially worrying for those travelling with children, particularly if they had, or adopted, children when they were legally a different gender.”

It adds that non-binary people also face a lack of protection under the law due to the limited gender choice on many official documents, meaning they “must constantly live as someone they are not”.

“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,” it states.

“The International Civil Aviation Organisation allows passports to be issued with an ‘X’ gender marker but the UK does not issue these. Not having legal recognition means non-binary people must constantly live as someone they are not.”

Stonewall said it will lobby the UK Government, devolved administrations, and political parties for recognition and protection of non-binary people in law, as well as appropriate ways to record gender in all official documents.

The Government has said it is "committed" to bringing in positive changes for transgender people, including reviewing gender markers in official documents. A spokesperson said: “The UK already has strong laws in place to protect transgender people and we are committed to delivering further positive changes for them. 

"That is why we have committed to reviewing the Gender Recognition Act to look at ways of streamlining and demedicalising the process for changing a person’s legal gender, as well as reviewing gender markers in official documents. Alongside this we are investing £3 million to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.”

'A Vision for Change' was created by the Stonewall Trans Advisory Group (STAG), a group of individuals that reflects a diverse range of transgender voices and experiences and supports the integration of trans equality across Stonewall’s campaigns and programmes. 

In addition to the advisory group, over 170 transgender people across Britain responded to a public consultation for their thoughts on the first draft of the document, which also received extensive feedback from the parents of trans children. 

Bex Stinson, Head of Trans Inclusion at Stonewall, said of the passport proposal: "Limiting passport gender markers to ‘male’ and ‘female’ often presents hurdles for trans people, and can lead to them choosing not to travel at all.

"If the way a person expresses their gender identity does not ‘match’ the gender in their passport this can lead to distressing questions. This situation would be avoided if ‘X’ markers were available for UK passport holders. This is just one of the many calls made in A Vision for Change, a five-year plan to secure full equality for trans people in every area of their lives.

"Trans inclusion at work, in schools and sports are other key areas the document addresses. We also want to see better media representation of all trans people, and amends to other legal documents like the Gender Recognition Act, to ensure that all trans and nonbinary people are adequately protected in law."

Surat-Shaan Knan, of Stonewall's trans advisory group, said: "A Vision for Change is a document that everyone can engage with and use to understand the landscape of trans equality in Britain, and think about their role in progressing it.

"The document, however, is just a starting point. We still have lots to do, and I hope that everyone will join Stonewall and the Stonewall Trans Advisory Group on this journey, in ensuring that all trans people can live full and authentic lives not just in Britain, but across the world."

The passport proposal comes days after one of the UK's largest banks HSBC changed its policy to offer non-gender specific titles, such as Mx, M and Misc, for their bank accounts.

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