June 12, 2021

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Should There Be More Gender Options on Identification Documents?

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Do you think that identification documents like passports and birth certificates should include a gender option for people who do not identify as male or female? Why or why not?

Do you think of gender as a binary, or as a broader spectrum? How do the people in your life talk about gender and gender identity? Have you observed a change in those conversations over time? Have you weighed in?

In “Passports May Soon Include a New Option for Gender Identity,” Valeriya Safronova writes about activists pushing President Biden to add a third gender option, “X,” to passports and other federal identification documents.

Passports, social security cards, residence permits and other federal identification documents may soon offer a third gender option: X.

Already, at least a dozen states and Washington, D.C., have amended their laws to offer an X gender designation on some identifying documents, including driver’s licenses and birth certificates.

But federal rules have not changed much since 2010, when Americans were first able to apply to change the sex marker on their passports. That application has always required medical certification and is only available for those who have transitioned from one gender to another; the State Department, which issues passports, asks applicants to select either male or female.

President Biden has promised to change that, and the American Civil Liberties Union is pushing him to take action soon.

The organization has been talking with White House officials about adding a gender neutral option to all federal identification documents and records, and allowing people to affirm their own gender without a court order or medical certificate.

The article continues:

A petition that the A.C.L.U. started last month, which calls for executive action, has more than 34,000 signatures. The organization plans to share the petition with the White House on March 31, the International Transgender Day of Visibility.

It is difficult to measure exactly how many people would choose a third gender designation on official documents. The category would provide an option for individuals who have transitioned but do not identify with either “male” or “female,” individuals who are nonbinary and those who are intersex, as well as others. Some people (and countries and international agencies) argue that there is no need for a gender designation on documents at all.

Ms. Safronova also describes the difficulties of updating one’s gender designation on some identification documents:

The bureaucratic hurdles to update or change gender on important documents, such as driver’s licenses and passports, can be insurmountable for many individuals.

According to a report from Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, about 42 percent of transgender people who are eligible to vote in 45 American states — they estimate that’s more than 350,000 people — do not have identification documents that reflect their correct name, gender or both.

A huge challenge is medical authorization, especially in the case of passports. “You have to go to a physician and get a formal letter on the letterhead,” said Mx. Christian of the A.C.L.U. That poses a problem for people “who don’t have insurance, live in rural areas and aren’t out to their providers, or haven’t had certain kinds of medical treatment for various reasons. It’s a big barrier to getting an updated ID.”

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • Do you think that a third, nonbinary gender option “X” should be added to passports and other federal identification documents? Are there any other options you think should be added? Why or why not?

  • The article describes Dana Zzyym’s experience suing the State Department after being denied a gender-neutral passport. Why is it important to Mx. Zzyym to have a gender-neutral ID? Why did the State Department argue that a binary sex designation is necessary? Who do you think makes the more powerful argument?

  • What purposes do gender designations on IDs and other important documents serve? Do you think they are ever unhelpful, or even hurtful? Why do you think some countries and agencies have done away with them altogether?

  • Has something about you ever been misidentified by someone else? Has anyone ever incorrectly assumed your gender? How does it feel, or how do you think it might feel, to see your name or gender inaccurately reflected on an identifying document?

  • Do you think that the way we talk about and denote gender should be more inclusive of individuals who identify outside the binary? What do you think of efforts to use more inclusive pronouns? How have you interacted with these issues in your own life?

  • What questions do you have about gender identity? What do you want to learn more about?


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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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