What You Should Know About Passports

With the Presidential election, there’s been a significant increase in transgender people seeking to get a U.S. Passport with an updated gender marker. In 2010, the U.S. State Department put in a new policy which allowed transgender people to have a passport to reflect their current gender by submitting certification from a physician confirming that they have had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition. While advocates say this policy is unlikely to change, this is not outside the realm of possibility with the change in administration. U.S. State Department’s old policy required documentation of sex reassignment surgery.

Basic Rights Oregon has already created a document which outlines the process of changing the gender marker on your U.S. Passport, which is located here: Securing Identity Documents High Priority for Transgender Communities.  This document provides further considerations for getting a U.S. Passport.

Why do I need a passport?

Besides travel outside the United States:

  1. A U.S. Passport can be used as another form of legal identification at places where you may use a state ID or other documentation, such as domestic travel at airports.
  2. A U.S. Passport can be used as a form of primary documentation indicating country of origin, which can be a substitute for a birth certificate when a birth certificate is requested.
  3. As of November 2016, getting an updated U.S. Passport reflecting current gender can be easier for folks than getting an updated birth certificate, especially if you were born in a state which currently does not amend gender on birth certificates (ID, KS, OH, TN), or has a surgical requirement for transgender people to change their birth certificates. Check the National Center for Transgender Equality ID Document Center or Lambda Legal for information on the process in your state of birth.

What do I need to get a passport?

  1. Application for U.S. Passport (Form DS-11);
  2. Proof of U.S. Citizenship (previous U.S. Passport, certified Birth Certificate, Certificate of Naturalization, or Report of Birth Abroad);
  3. Proof of Identity that contains your signature and photograph that is “a good likeness to you” (such as a previous U.S. Passport, a Driver’s License, a Certificate of Naturalization, Military Identification, or a Government Employee Identification Card). You must present the original AND provide a photocopy of the front and back side with your application;
  4. A recent color photograph 2×2 inches in size;
  5. Name change court order if changing your name.
  6. Physicians letter confirming your gender transition.
  7. Fees, which can vary: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/information/fees.html

What needs to be in the Physician’s letter?

  1. Physician’s full name (must be a M.D. or D.O.)
  2. Their medical license or certificate number with the issuing state or jurisdiction
  3. The address and telephone of the physician, with the letter preferably on the physician’s letterhead.
  4. Language which states
    1. There is a doctor/patient relationship
    2. The doctor has treated you or has reviewed and evaluated your medical history.
    3. You have had, or in the process of having, appropriate clinical treatment for transition to the updated gender (state: male or female)
    4. “I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States that the forgoing is true and correct.”

The U.S. State Department has a template for the letter here.

What are some additional considerations about passports?

  1. The state department issues two types of passports based on a person’s gender transition.
  2. A fully valid passport for ten years, which states the person filing has had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition. Anyone should be able to get the 10 year passport, and the ability to get one will depend on the doctor’s willingness to sign.
  3. A limited valid passport for two years, which says the person filing is in the process of getting appropriate clinical treatment, which is good for two years.
  4. Even if the gender marker is changed on a person’s birth certificate, driver’s license or other documentation, the physician’s letter is required for changing the gender marker on the passport.
  5. A gender designation other than male or female is currently not an option on U.S. Passports, but as of November 2016, the U.S. State Department is being challenged in federal court by lawyers on behalf of Dana Zzyym, a Colorado resident who was born intersex.
  6. The typical process time for passports is between 4-6 weeks, while expedited service can take 2 to 3 weeks. If you need a passport sooner, make an appointment at a passport agency or center for travel outside the country at 1-877-487-2778.
  7. Concerned about time? Here’s some time saving considerations.
    1. If changing your name, you don’t need to change your name on your submitted supporting documentation, like your driver’s license, as long as you have a valid name change court order. A passport office can be the next stop after getting the court order, as long as you have the physician’s letter.
    2. Need to put off changing your name? You can still change your gender marker on your passport, then later submit your name change order, a passport photo and form DS-5504 within a year afterwards, and not have to pay additional fees. After a year, there will be fees and different forms.
    3. Check out this Oregon ID Document Map if you’re concerned about wait times at the Passport offices. Some offices require people to make appointments.

Additional Resources:

Brave Space LLC  (scholarship funding): http://www.bravespacellc.com/

NCTE’s Know Your Rights:  http://www.transequality.org/know-your-rights/passports