State Dept. Changes Passport Policy to Accomodate People Who Change Gender, Even Without Surgery

By Penny Starr | June 14, 2010 | 7:47 PM EDT

Gay theme (AP Photo)

( – The U.S. State Department is marking lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender “Pride Month” by changing its policy concerning gender change on passports and consular reports of birth abroad.  

As of June 10, the State Department no longer requires that individuals provide proof that they have had sex reassignment surgery, but only requires certification from an “attending physician” that the individual received “appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition,” which may or may not include surgery.

In other words, a conservative group complained, "cross-dressers no longer need to undergo 'sexual reassignment' surgery to change the gender listed on their passports."

Under the new State Department policy, “Beginning June 10, when a passport applicant presents a certification from an attending medical physician that the applicant has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition, the passport will reflect the new gender,” said a press release posted June 9 on the State Department Web site. “The guidelines include detailed information about what information the certification must include.
“It is also possible to obtain a limited-validity passport if the physician’s statement shows the applicant is in the process of gender transition,” the press release states. “No additional medical records are required. Sexual reassignment surgery is no longer a prerequisite for passport issuance. A Consular Report of Birth Abroad can also be amended with the new gender.”
The new policy is based on recommendations of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which the State Department said is recognized by the American Medical Association as “the authority in this field.”

A conservative group called the policy change a "major concession" that will affect all Americans: "Passports are intended to be the most secure identification that our country offers," the Family Research Council said. "How can the people assigned to keep us safe do so when a possible suspect could be described as either 'a man or a woman,' depending on how they feel at that particular time?"

FRC warned, "It is impossible to protect Americans when we let people hide their true identities. Unfortunately, this administration believes that safety isn't as important as 'self-discovery.'"
But the National Center for Gender Equality’s (NCGE) director of communications told that the group supports the change because it allows doctors and their patients to decide what is the right medical treatment -- and that the treatment might not include sex reassignment surgery.
After the policy was announced, the NCGE issued a statement explaining what the change means to the transgender community.
“Under the new policy, a transgender person can obtain a passport reflecting his or her current gender by submitting a certification from a physician confirming that he or she has had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition,” the statement said. “This policy replaces the Department’s old policy, which required documentation of sex reassignment surgery.”

State Department employee Patrick Wingate and his partner and their two children, as highlighted on the State Department's Web site for 2010 LGBT Pride Month. (Department of State)

The statement goes on to say why the policy change was needed.
“The purpose of a passport is to facilitate travel between a person’s country of citizenship and other countries; there is no need for a person to reveal gender-related medical care to either US or foreign government officials in order to be able to travel,” the statement said. “In fact, doing so exposed people to danger.”
“In the past, many transgender people could not obtain an updated passport and were afraid to travel abroad,” the statement reads. “Traveling with a passport that does not reflect your current gender can cause great anxiety and can be dangerous. Outdated gender designations can ‘out’ a person as transgender in all kinds of situations, and can put people at risk of discrimination, harassment, and even violence.”
The PDF file posted by the NCGE also shows sample letters for use by physicians and cites proper treatment of transgender individuals who are traveling abroad.
“The new policy specifically instructs passport specialists to treat transgender applicants with respect, including using appropriate pronouns and to not ask unrelated questions,” the statement said. “However, if you encounter improper requests for information, unprofessional behavior or other difficulties obtaining a passport, contact your Regional Passport Office, your U.S. Senator’s Office, or NCTE.”
Repeated inquiries from to the State Department’s Consular Affairs Office, which handles passports and births abroad, asking why the policy change was necessary, were not answered by press time.