Marginalised people know legislation doesn’t automatically change societal behaviour. Take same-sex marriage, for example. The 2014 law change which equalised rights to marriage was undoubtedly a win for LGBT+ rights, yet recent figures show hate crime against LGBT+ people is rising, while prosecutions are dwindling. Even though we’re legislating for a fairer society, intolerance is actually getting worse, not better.
When it comes to the right to self-identification and to our identities being recognised – and indeed protected – when doing basic human activities like travelling, it’s more than just a matter of ‘opinions’.
That’s why this week sees the Court of Appeal hear arguments for gender-neutral ‘X’ passports, presented by Clifford Chance and campaigner Christie Elan-Cane, who has been fighting for X passports for over 20 years. The Court will hear challenges both for and against X passports, with a decision on their future set to be made in January.
Here’s why this is so important. As a non-binary person, I first realised the problematic nature of official documentation when I myself came to renew my own passport in December 2018. After coming out as non-binary in 2016, I had been living for years as someone who exists outside of the rigidity of the gender binary, only to then be confronted with a restrictive, binary decision to make: I had to class myself as either male or female.
“For many people – not just non-binary people like me but intersex and trans people too – this is typical of the social barriers we face day in, day out”
For most people, this is never a problem in their lives; it’s likely just the start of a form don’t want to be filling out. But for many people – not just non-binary people like me but intersex and trans people too – this is typical of the social barriers we face day in, day out. From aggressions such as constant questioning, misgendering and exclusion from same-sex spaces to the violence trans people, particularly people of colour, face just for existing, our community is not simply a group that are ‘up for debate’. We are a community struggling and in need of action.
That’s why, back in February, I launched a petition to allow non-binary people to be granted with X passports. We gained some 21,000 signatures, which led to me hearing about Christie’s 20 year-long fight. After the first court hearing of the issue in 2017, in which the High Court deemed this issue too much of an ‘administrative task’, and ‘too expensive’, the campaign continued, resulting in the situation that we see this week in the Royal Courts of Justice.
There are those who oppose campaigns like ours, from those who can’t – or choose not to – understand or empathise with people like us. I can only think it’s because they don’t know what it’s like to face such basic barriers when navigating their everyday lives.
I appeared with the journalist Brendan O’Neill on Sky News this week, talking about the “fear” that this may impact national security, and the idea that non-binary identities are ‘okay in private, but not in public life’. This same tactic was once used in the ’80s to drum up fear and scare monger about same-sex couples, and today it’s a tool used to push trans and non-binary people into the long grass.
“Trust me what I say the irony is lost on non-binary people that we’re having to go around campaigning on issues as banal as passports”
Trust me what I say the irony is lost on non-binary people that we’re having to go around campaigning on issues as banal as passports. But that’s essentially our point here – the right to simply identify yourselves however you choose on something as essential as a piece of legal documentation is not something that people like Christie should have to spend two decades fighting for.
If the UK wants to herald itself as a country that is progressive and ahead of the curve when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, we need more than the two measly mentions the Conservative party have in their manifesto of LGBTQ+ rights. Instead, we must listen to the marginalised people who are calling for change, and implement it without the unnecessary back and forth that we sitting through right now. Gender-neutral passports would be an important symbolic step.
Countries such as Germany, Canada and the Netherlands, have all implemented X passports with ease, and no complication, some many years ago. If the UK allows people to enter the country with an X passport, isn’t it time they allowed their own citizens the right to leave with one too?
Jamie Windust is a non-binary journalist and campaigner. Follow them on Twitter at @jamie_windust
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