Graphic via Shutterstock / Courier Graphic via Shutterstock / Courier

“Respecting every American’s gender must extend to travel abroad,” California Rep. Ro Khanna said on Tuesday.

In 2015, Dana Zzyym was one of 15.5 million Americans to apply for a U.S. passport. The non-binary U.S. Navy veteran’s application, however, was denied by the U.S. State Department because they did not identify themselves as male or female. Five years and many legal battles later, Zzyym still doesn’t have a passport. 

But change may be on the horizon, thanks to new legislation from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA).

On Tuesday, Khanna introduced a bill that would add a third gender designation to U.S. passport applications. The Gender Inclusive Passport Act instructs the U.S. State Department to add an additional “(X), Unspecified” sex marker category for U.S. passports and passport cards, or Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, allowing applicants identifying as neither male nor female to select a third gender marker option.

Currently, anyone who self-identifies as non-binary is forced to apply as either a male or female, or risk being denied a passport. Khanna’s legislation would prevent Zzyym’s experience from happening to other non-binary individuals. 

“Respecting every American’s gender must extend to travel abroad,” Khanna said in a statement. “The freedom to move and express yourself no matter what should be guaranteed in this country … Everyone in this country should have the freedom to express their preferred gender on passports.”

Khanna’s bill would also allow gender-diverse applicants to seek the “(X) Unspecified” sex marker without having to jump through bureaucratic hurdles, such as obtaining a signed affidavit from a physician. 

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia currently offer non-binary gender designations on identification cards. If Khanna’s bill were to be passed into law, the United States would join at least 10 other countries, including Australia, Canada, and Germany, in issuing passports with three gender options.

“Non-binary people already face disproportionately high rates of discrimination, harassment, and violence, and this risk of harm is significantly exacerbated when forced to present incongruent legal documents that do not accurately reflect who they are.”

About 1.4 million American adults identify as transgender, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, and 35% of transgender Americans identify as non-binary, according to a 2015 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality. Based on those estimates, there are about 490,000 non-binary Americans who stand to benefit from The Gender Inclusive Passport Act.

Khanna’s legislation was celebrated by LGBTQ advocates. 

“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, government affairs director at the Human Rights Campaign. “Non-binary people already face disproportionately high rates of discrimination, harassment, and violence, and this risk of harm is significantly exacerbated when forced to present incongruent legal documents that do not accurately reflect who they are.”

Khanna’s bill was also praised by Paul Castillo, counsel at Lambda Legal, who represents Zzyym in their lawsuit against the U.S. State Department.

“Dana has been forced to challenge the State Department in court and, over the last several years, had to forego multiple opportunities to present at international conferences because they cannot lawfully exit the country,” Castillo said. “Congressman Khanna’s bill will free Dana and other intersex, non-binary, and other gender diverse Americans from the virtual nationwide house arrest into which the State Department has placed them.”

Zzyym won their case against the State Department in 2018, but the department has filed several appeals and the case remains tied up in the legal system.