Within one month of each other, two high-profile transgender women had terrible run-ins with the US Passport Office that caused major concern within the transgender community. While it seems that both of these incidents were isolated events that don’t signal a larger policy shift, it’s worth taking the time to examine what happened and the possible reasons for the trouble.
In the first case, Danni Askini – a woman whose legal documents have reflected her gender since 1999 – was denied a renewal of her passport. She was told that there was insufficient proof of her US citizenship. The passport office that she dealt with, according to Askini, told her that she would need to get a judge to unseal her child welfare records from her time in the Foster care system in order to prove her citizenship and, additionally, that she’d need to provide “proof of transition” for the first time.
In the second case, Janus Rose – a woman who legally changed her gender marker last year – attempted to update her legal name on her passport and, as a result, was told that the government had decided to retroactively invalidate the change of gender marker due to an unidentified “error.”
It’s worth noting that Askini is the executive director of a trans rights group, Gender Justice League. Rose is a technology researcher who writes for Vice and The New Yorker. We’re not saying that this is what happened here, but given their positions, we can see why some might suspect that these women were targeted by the current administration (which hasn’t been shy in its disregard for transgender people or transgender rights).
That said, it does seem that these two cases were unfortunate outliers, not signals of a larger policy shift.
Under the current policy — which was put in place during President Obama’s administration in 2010 – transgender Americans who wish to update their gender marker in their passport may do so by presenting a doctor’s note stating that they have either undergone or are in the process of obtaining clinical treatment for a gender transition. Any person who has completed their transition is eligible for a standard ten-year passport. Any person who is still in the process of transitioning is eligible for an abbreviated two-year passport.
In both cases shared above, it seems that the issues stemmed from the doctor’s note, and in both cases, the passport office was exceptionally fickle. But that sort of strict adherence to policy isn’t exactly out of the ordinary when passport applications are involved.
The National Center for Transgender Equality released a statement assuring the American transgender community that these were isolated incidents of “unusual circumstances and bureaucratic mistakes by the passport agency” that were unfortunate and anxiety-inducing, but they noted that “the longstanding passport gender marker policy has not changed.”
If you are transgender, passports may be one of your sources of concern, but they don’t need to be. Give our office a call to learn more about the current policies relating to changing a passport gender marker. We can also help you apply for expedited passports directly through our website. Visit our gender transition passport page here to get started.
Rob Lee is co-founder of Swift Passport and Visa Services. Originally from Michigan, Rob is an avid fisherman and SCUBA diver who enjoys adventure travel.