Fighting for legal and social recognition outside the societal gender system
House of Commons Debate Identity Documents Bill (Wednesday 15 September 2010)
The following from Lynne Featherstone MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Equalities)
“We need to be careful that in seeking to extend the rights of the transgendered person when travelling, we do not create the potential for additional difficulties. That is why we intend to work with the transgendered community and others on determining what they consider is the best approach and, in conjunction with the Government Equalities Office, consider how we can move this important issue forward. It is important that we listen to those who are most affected. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge mentioned in Committee, a number of his constituents who would be affected and with whom he has had discussions do not favour the approach suggested by the amendment.
At the same time, through the International Civil Aviation Organisation, we will discuss with our international partners the issue of gender recognition in passports. It is possible for a passport to be issued with an X instead of an M for male and F for female. However, we anticipate that the use of an X may raise more questions than answers. Instead, we will consider other options, including whether it might be possible to remove gender identifiers from passports, and look at any potential consequential security implications of this. We aim to consult groups in the UK this autumn and with the ICAO and others over the coming months.”
Full text of debate can be found on Hansard
I will not bore the readers of this website or myself by commenting further on the minutiae as to how this debate came about (and the Hansard transcript provides the detail for anyone not familiar with the background).
I will respond however to some of the suggestions made by the Minister as quoted in the above paragraphs:
I welcome that the government of the United Kingdom has referenced the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) accepted standard that permits three categories within the sex/gender field for machine readable passports. I have argued the point for some time that it is legally possible for a non gender-specific passport to be issued anywhere in the world in accordance with ICAO requirements.
There does not have to be a change to the law for the introduction of a non gender-specific passport because this provision is already permissible under internationally defined standards. It is all down to government policy and political will. I have been in contact with the UK Identity and Passport Service (IPS) and encouraged others to become involved and IPS are starting to listen whereas until recently any such approach would have been dismissed outright but pressure also has to come from above if we are to achieve the result we want within the timeframe we want – I want real change right now and not some vague promise from IPS that might just result in policy change in twenty years time.
I welcome that the Minister intends to consult with ICAO and with the authorities of other countries on this issue (New Zealand would be a good place to begin).
I caution against the suggestion of assessing the possibility of removing gender indicators from passports completely. This is not because I do not support the suggestion but because the complete removal of sex/gender field as a passport data element is not equivalent to the ICAO internationally accepted standard of three permissible values within the field and I cannot conceive a situation where there would be an international consensus to remove the field completely. The non gender-specific option ‘X’ is already available and it would be a straightforward case of IPS adding a third value to the field on the issuing system database that currently only accepts the values ‘M’ and ‘F’.
On the other hand, there are numerous examples of inappropriate requirement for the non-gendered to state a gendered role in order to access goods and services whereby the removal of such inappropriate categorisation would fall within the remit of the UK government. Here I include all government departments and sub-divisions, the NHS, HMRC etc. etc. And many private sector institutions continue to require a gendered role in the course of applying or registering for a service. The insurance industry has to be the worst because in certain circumstances, such as driving a vehicle for example, insurance cover is a legal requirement and the industry retains a strict policy of gendered categorisation in the provision of insurance. Insurance providers and the financial services industry in general is a corporate arena where public pressure from those affected or excluded by discriminatory policies will not suffice (the non-gendered and indeed the trans. population as a group are generally economically disenfranchised and not considered to be of high ‘net worth’ value and therefore our custom is not exactly coveted by these institutions) and government intervention is necessary to bring about change. So there is much the UK government can do if political debate begins to focus on the removal of this inappropriate and offensive requirement altogether.
Returning to the parliamentary debate of 15 September 2010, I conclude by saying that I welcome that this particular aspect of the broader issue of legal recognition and equality of treatment was raised by the Minister during her speech. It really does appear to be a brave new world!
To everyone who is personally affected by the issue of identity outside the gendered societal structure I say the following:
Human identity outside the gendered societal structure has historically been denied and it serves the interests of the powerful within society to ensure the status quo is unchallenged. Consequentially those of non-gendered identity are rendered socially invisible. We have been denied a legitimate identity and we are denied a voice. Radical social change over previous decades has brought negligible benefit while legislation is bound in gendered terminology. We continue to exist and live among the privileged gendered majority as non-persons within society. We are denied access to employment and suffer routine discrimination and our fundamental rights as human beings are breached in all kinds of ways and we have no recourse because legally we do not exist at all.
What we need to do to help ourselves is to be proactive and visible and there are things we can do.
I ask again that if you are reading this and have read my previous postings regarding a direct approach to IPS and you are similarly affected by the things I write about but have yet to act, that you -
WRITE to IPS and tell them you require a non gender-specific UK passport
WRITE to your MP and request support for the initiative
WRITE to whoever you think might listen and tell them you have a legitimate right of existence and a legitimate need to be recognised as the unique and very individual person that you are
and NEVER feel embarrassed or afraid.
The time to act is NOW.
The denial of existence is the worst act of discrimination by the gendered majority against the non-gendered.