Gender-neutral passport challenge goes to High Court

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Apr 18, 2018
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Christie Elan-Cane has been campaigning for X-passports for more than 25 years

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

Equality campaigners will launch a court challenge today over the government's refusal to allow British subjects to carry gender neutral passports. 

The claimants will argue in the High Court that the policy is discriminatory, pointing out that international standards already allow for so-called X-passports for those who do not identify as male or female.

The claim is led by Christie Elan-Cane, who has spent more than 25 years campaigning on the issue and argues that the passport policy is inherently discriminatory and “part of a wider systemic failure to address the needs of individuals whose identities do not conform to traditional definitions”.

Applicants for a British passport must indicate whether they are male or female in a signed declaration. The Home Office has consistently refused to issue passports that display an “X” character rather than “M” or “F”, despite the claimants’ argument that X-passports are recognised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the UN body that oversees global standards for passports.

The claimants’ lawyers say that “passport applicants whose identities are neither male nor female are subject to a discriminatory policy that fails to acknowledge their existence. Current policy forces individuals whose identities are neither male nor female to deny a profound aspect of their identity whilst making a declaration known by the individual to be false.”

Clifford Chance, one of the “magic circle” firms in the City of London, is acting for the claimant on a pro bono basis.

Before filing the claim at the High Court, Elan-Cane, who was born female and now identifies as “non-gendered”, said: “Legitimate identity is a fundamental human right but non-gendered people are often treated as though we have no rights.

“The UK’s passport application process requires applicants to declare whether they are male or female. It is inappropriate and wrong that someone who defines as neither should be forced to make that declaration.”

Narind Singh, the Clifford Chance partner leading team in the challenge, said that the firm was “proud to be bringing this case on the fundamentally important issue of the right to respect for individuals’ identity.

“Gender identity is a fundamental part of an individual’s intimate, personal identity and X-passports are a crucial step in the protection of the human rights of this group of individuals, who otherwise face an unacceptable choice between forgoing a passport and making a false declaration, and using a passport which misrepresents their identity.”

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