Effective immediately, Australia will now allow people who are transgender or intersex to obtain passports that do not force them to identify with the gender binary. Rather than being “M” or “F,” they can simply be “x.” More importantly, rather than requiring they actually undergo sexual reassignment surgery — a requirement that Human Rights Watch told the Netherlands this week is a violation of transgender human rights — individuals merely need a note from their doctor to establish their “indeterminate” status.
While this decision may sound trivial to some, it could be revolutionary for the way it protects transgender people when they travel. When a person’s gender marker on their passport does not reflect their perceived gender, security personnel see the “mismatch” as suspicious. Trans people are disproportionately selected for invasive screenings like full-body scans and pat-downs.
But this decision also speaks volumes about how to respect trans people. A key goal of transgender equality is teaching society to trust and appreciate a person’s self-proclaimed gender identity. Australia’s new policy accomplishes this by not requiring people who are trans, genderqueer, or intersex to “prove” their gender or fit it into one of two boxes. Encouraging the authenticity of transgender identities counters the intense stigma and injustice they face throughout their lives.
Australia has not yet established full equality for LGBT people, but this is a significant step forward. Governments the world over should follow Australia’s lead by making it so easy for transgender people to self-identify their gender — not just for passports, but all forms of legal identification. Trans people will be safer and society will be better off.