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U.K. Government Taken to Court Over Refusal to Issue Gender Neutral Passports

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A landmark appeals court case is being heard in the U.K. challenging the government on the issue of gender neutral passports.

The U.K. government have refused to issue gender-neutral passports, which would include an option to mark ‘X’, indicating a holder’s sex as ‘unspecified’, rather than ‘F’ and ‘M’ for female and male. In June 2018, the U.K’s High Court ruled the government’s passport policy was lawful.

But the ruling is being appealed today at the U.K. Court of Appeal, in a case being brought by non-gendered activist Christie Elan-Cane. The hearing is expected to last two days.

Under current legislation, when applying for a U.K. passport, applicants must indicate whether they are male or female — affording no provision for those who do not identify with a gender. Elan-Cane argues that this is in breach of the right to respect for private life and the right to identify as non-gendered under the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR).

Elan-Cane has campaigned for more than 25 years to promote the rights of people of non-gendered identity.

“It is unacceptable that someone who defines as neither male nor female is forced to declare an inappropriate gender in order to obtain a passport,” Elan-Cane said in a statement.

“The U.K. Government has consistently and consciously shown a determined unwillingness to accommodate non-gendered peoples’ legitimate needs,” Elan-Cane continued. “We are socially invisible and we are ‘inconvenient’ in a society where so much—even the legislative system— is bound and classified in accordance to gender.”

Currently, gender-neutral passports are permitted in a number of countries, such as Australia, Germany, Canada, and Pakistan. The U.K. government does recognize ‘X’ passports issued in another country as a valid travel document.

More than 80 U.K. members of parliament (MPs) supported a motion in 2017, which called for ‘X’ passports for people who do not associate with a particular gender. Only two MPs from the governing Conservative party signed the motion.

Anne Collins, who works as an associate for Clifford Chance, the law firm helping to represent Elan-Clare in the appeals case, argues that ‘X’ passports are crucial for human rights.

“This case raises important questions regarding the right to respect for individuals’ gender identity for those who do not identify exclusively as male or female, including members of the trans community, intersex people and those who identify as non-gendered,” Collins said in a statement.

“X Passports are crucial to the protection of the human rights of this group of individuals, and Clifford Chance is proud to be working with Christie to appeal the High Court’s decision on the issue,” she added.

The Home Office, which oversees the U.K.’s Passport Office, said that they were unable to comment because the case is ongoing.

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