By Matthew Lavietes
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A U.S. lawmaker on Tuesday introduced a bill that would add a gender-neutral option to U.S. passports in a move advocates said would advance the rights of LGBT+ people but which officials earlier ruled out as too expensive.
If passed, the United States would join over 10 countries – including Canada, Germany, Australia and India – that allow people who do not identify as male or female to opt for a third gender category of “X” on their passports.
“Respecting every American’s gender must extend to travel abroad,” said Democratic Representative Ro Khanna who spearheaded the bill in a statement.
“The freedom to move and express yourself no matter what should be guaranteed in this country.”
LGBT+ advocates say strict male and female categories are a form of discrimination that labels transgender and intersex people – who are born with atypical chromosomes or sex characteristics – against their will.
Several states and cities, including New York, already allow Americans to opt for a third gender category on their identification cards and major airlines have announced plans to introduce extra gender options for passengers.
To become law, the bill would need to be approved by President Donald Trump and receive a simple majority in both the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-controlled Senate.
Trump, a Republican with strong support among evangelical Christian voters, has taken aim at gay and transgender rights after a decade of change that included the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015.
Trump’s administration has supported the right of certain businesses to refuse to serve gay people on the basis of religious objections to gay marriage and restricted transgender service members in the military.
Advocates applauded Tuesday’s proposal.
“The ability to obtain accurate identity documents is imperative to the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ people, and we thank Rep. Khanna for advancing this issue,” said David Stacy, a director from the Human Rights Campaign, a U.S.-based LGBT+ advocacy group.
Last year a federal court ruled the U.S. State Department cannot deny a passport to a Navy veteran who is intersex and identifies as neither male nor female.
The State Department had said allowing the change would require an overhaul of information systems, which it estimated would take two years and cost about $11 million.
(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes; Editing by Tom Finn (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)