Fighting for legal and social recognition outside the gendered societal structure
‘X’ PASSPORTS IN THE UK – THE FIGHT GOES ON!!!
On Monday 2 September I attended a high level meeting at Portcullis House with HM Passport Office Interim Chief Executive Paul Pugh and two civil servants from HM Passport Office’s policy division.
The meeting, facilitated by my parliamentary representative the Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP, was called in the aftermath of the passport authority’s failure to conduct a proper review when tasked to undertake an investigation into proposals for enabling non gender-specific ‘X’ passports to be issued to people who do not define as male or female in the United Kingdom. As regular visitors to this site are aware, a government ‘review’ of current UK passport policy (a highly discriminatory policy that forces all UK passport applicants to declare as either male or female even when neither are appropriate) was announced two years ago and became part of the coalition government’s trans* equality action plan.
I wanted to have this meeting and had pushed to make it happen but nonetheless I found it thoroughly degrading, as a human being, that I should be required to argue for the case that people who do not identify as either male or female should have the same right of legitimate identity and appropriate identity affirming documentation as everyone else, especially given that I was addressing people who represented an institution that was denying to me my right of legitimate identity, and that some of those people in the room might have been pivotal in what was undoubtedly an attempt to bury ‘X’ passports.
It was clear from the outset there would be no consensus. I presented a reasonable case that trans* who do not define as male or female are a fact of life and need to be accommodated through the provision of identity documentation that affirms rather than misrepresents the identity. The HM Passport Office representatives clearly did not agree with me, or rather were of the opinion it is not their organisation’s role to open up the issue when there is no existing provision or recognition within statutory legislation.
I continued to argue the case and, prompted by Simon Hughes, HM Passport Office admitted that no changes to primary legislation would be required in order to implement this necessary policy change. This is contrary to what was stated in a letter the organisation had sent in response to Simon Hughes last April (in final throes under its former name as the Identity and Passport Service (IPS)).
It was also pointed out there was a discrepancy in that visiting ‘X’ passport holders from countries with more enlightened governing authorities would be able to enter the UK with an ‘X’ passport and yet the UK passport authority would not extend the same provision to UK passport holders. In a ‘life sucks’ kind of shrugged response, it was admitted that visitors from overseas could enter the UK with an ‘X’ passport however the UK still had no plans to introduce ‘X’ to benefit its own people.
The differing models of the application process for an ‘X’ passport as currently practised in New Zealand and Australia were discussed with no agreement reached on whether HM Passport Office would seriously consider either the self-certification method of NZ or the (non-pathologising) medical professional authentication approach of Australia. There was no commitment to do anything at all and I am certain that nothing is all that has been done so far. Ultimately, I was told, this (provision of ‘X’ passports) is “a ministerial decision” ie. not HM Passport Office’s responsibility.
There was a curious assertion from one of the public servants that it was IPS that first suggested ‘X’ passports went into the trans* equality action plan. Well, there was me thinking that it was down entirely to more than 20 years of damned hard work on my part to get the issue taken seriously and the willingness of trans* community representatives and the GEO people around at the time to listen! However, given that none of the commitments made by the government to trans* were actually delivered unless there was incidental benefit to trans* within a broader LGB(&t*) initiative, maybe the IPS realised the trans* equality action plan would be the perfect dumping ground for proposals – and people – the civil servants perceived as insignificant!!!
I went through and addressed point by point the arguments against ‘X’ passports as presented by IPS in an extremely offensive letter sent in April that the organisation had assumed was closure on the matter. They listened, they nodded and murmured every now and then, they argued over points, I argued back. And that was about it. As HM Passport Office was most insistent that any policy change would be a ministerial decision, Simon Hughes has agreed to further with the Immigration Minister Mark Harper.
Another admission was that, when challenged over how the organisation’s treatment of people who need ‘X’ passports can possibly be justified when its Equality and Diversity statement claims to treat all customers with understanding, dignity and respect (and I referred to the E&D policy statement at frequent intervals throughout the meeting https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-passport-office/about/equality-and-diversity), the response was that HM Passport Office could not possibly meet the needs of ALL its customers.
But the provision of ‘X’ passports to people who desperately need a non gender-specific identification and travel document is something that can and should have happened. HM Passport Office – and the UK government – had an opportunity to make it happen and they have FAILED.
PASSPORT ‘REVIEW’ FINDINGS PUBLISHED IN HoC LIBRARY
The findings of this incredibly secret ‘review’ are to be published in the House of Commons Ministerial Library despite the passport authority’s efforts to keep everything behind closed doors.
The agreement to disclose ‘review’ findings followed a Written Parliamentary Question from Simon Hughes tabled around 21 May 2013 with response from Mark Harper, Immigration Minister, in June.
Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if she will place in the Library a copy of the outcome and recommendations of the review undertaken by the Identity and Passport Service into the use of gender markings in the British passport; 
(2) which external stakeholders have been consulted by the Identity and Passport Service into the use of gender markings in the British passport. 
Mr Harper: The then Identity and Passport Service (now Her Majesty’s Passport Office) undertook an internal review into the use of gender markings in the British passport. The review primarily consisted of consideration of existing available material, together with liaison with a number of domestic and international stakeholders. As the nature of the contact with those stakeholders did not indicate any intention to publish their views, I will seek agreement from those stakeholders for their views to be published and, upon receipt of this consent, will place a copy of the full review in the Library of the House.
I have, however, today placed a copy of the letter sent to the right hon. Member on 9 April 2013 that sets out the findings of the review and the agreed course of action to retain the existing use of ‘M’ and ‘F’ markings only in the passport. This letter has been redacted to remove personal information.
HM Passport Office are now requesting the permission of stakeholders prior to the publishing of their evidence in the House of Commons Library.
The problem I have with this is that I have NO CONFIDENCE that this forthcoming semi-public disclosure of findings will be a true and accurate record of actual evidence submitted by stakeholders in favour of ‘X’ passports, having already been informed by a good friend whose submitted evidence was redacted by HM Passport Office with all supportive reference to ‘X’ passports having been taken out when approached by HM Passport Office for consent to publish.
With the knowledge that HM Passport Office doctored the evidence of one stakeholder, how can it be assumed there is any degree of accuracy in the published findings against the original stakeholder evidence submissions? I am extremely grateful to my friend for alerting me to the attempted redaction and can only request and hope that other stakeholders who gave evidence (and who might also be reading this) will react as my friend reacted – by telling HM Passport Office that the evidence must be published as originally submitted or not published at all.
The HM Passport Office public servants did not provide a proper answer when I challenged them on the redaction during the course of the meeting.
YOUR VIEWS ARE BEING SOUGHT – AGAIN!
At one point during the meeting, it was suggested by HM Passport Office that this was not really a significant issue because there were no known cases where an applicant had refused to indicate a gendered role on the passport application form at the point of application. Both Simon Hughes and I responded that an application without either ‘M’ or ‘F’ selected would be automatically rejected and it was highly unlikely that anyone would choose the point of application, risking a lengthy delay in the processing of their application and consequentially denying them their freedom to travel, in order to make an issue of the inappropriateness of the question when the end result would be that either ‘M’ or ‘F’ would have to be selected eventually, because otherwise the passport would not be issued at all under current policy. Incidentally, I first approached the UK passport authority (whatever it was called then) in 1995 and enquired whether it was possible that I could, given the circumstances, return the application and leave that section blank. The response was an unequivocal “no”.
However, we were informed during the meeting, HM Passport Office would like to hear more often and from more of you. Therefore, if you do not define as male or female, if you feel it is inappropriate that you are forced to declare as ‘M’ or ‘F’ on your application, if you find it degrading that the UK government are denying your right of legitimate existence when other countries have recognised this as a serious human rights issue (and that the UK, while accepting ‘X’ as legitimate when used by our friends from overseas, are refusing to extend same acceptance to UK passport holders), then HM Passport Office really, really, really do want to hear from you! That’s what they told me so it must be true.
No one actually offered their contact details for evidence gathering purposes (and I admit I was getting jaded by this point and did not think to ask) – therefore, I have two suggestions
1) Write to me at Christie.Elancane@yahoo.co.uk. I will forward to one of their policy chiefs, and keep a record for my own reference that I might (with your permission) use as future evidence.
2) Bombard the organisation’s online communications system (only ‘Dr’ is accepted for non gender-specific title) https://contact.homeoffice.gov.uk/contact.php?survey=1&pager=1
Early Day Motion
Simon Hughes is shortly to table an Early Day Motion (EDM) in support of ‘X’ passports for non-gendered and bi-gendered people in the United Kingdom.
No date has been set but EDM should be timed to coincide with HM Passport Office release of ‘review’ findings to the HoC Library, if not sooner.
I hope to have more information in forthcoming weeks but in the meantime I strongly urge everyone to contact their local MP and ask them to sign this EDM.
The denial of existence is the worst act of discrimination by the gendered majority against the non-gendered
Copyright ©2013 Christie Elan-Cane
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