Passports and Discrimination

How the US Government still tries to deny Passports to Transgender People

Shana Carroll
Jul 21, 2020 · 7 min read
Photo by mana5280 on Unsplash

Since February I had been waiting to get my passport issued and returned to me. With the onset of the pandemic and the government shut down, as much as Trump said there was no shut down, it took until last week for my passport to be issued. Across the entire process the United States government still enforces “rules” on passports for transgender people that are not included anywhere on their website, or in the law. With that in mind, I am going to highlight how the United States is still discriminating against transgender people and ways that you can speak up and help.

First the United States Passport Office does not have a clear set of regulations for applying for a passport as a transgender person. The US government refuses to accept trans bodies as valid. In there regulations they have stipulations for the type of passport you can receive.

The first regulation is for a full 10 year visa you have to prove “You have had appropriate clinical treatment for transition from male to female or female to male*.” By this statement they do not accept non-binary identities as a valid reason to change a gender marker and will refuse any attempt. Further they see transition as a set of medical surgeries one must undergo to prove they are who they say they are, and proof of this must be included in your application. If you can not prove you have had these surgeries you are considered “in the process” of going from “male to female or female to male” and will only be issued a 2 year passport in which time you have to complete all the surgeries if you want a 10 year passport or you must continue applying for a two year renewal. So, from the very start you have two options that are not clear. What if you don’t want surgery? What counts as appropritate and irreversible treatment? What is the time period they need defined? What if your documents are already updated and you are applying for a first time passport? Are there additional forms, is there a standard form? None of this is answered.

Most importantly, being transgender it not about the surgeries or the HRT regimen you are on. In that case the United States Department of States may look at the paperwork you include and it may be rejected, and a passport may not be issued at all. Additionally, the United States government refuses to accept the statement of a psychologist, or counsellor, it most come from a medical physican to be valid, and the doctor will determine where you are in the process. So if you have a gatekeeper doctor you may not get a full 10 year passport either, if they are unwilling to state your medical transition has been completed.

Now, when I applied to get my passport I had an expired passport that I thought I could just update. However, since I needed to update my gender marker, and name, I needed to apply for a new passport, the Passport officials I talked to on the phone all stated that the old passport was invalid for renewal because of those changes and not a legal document anymore. Fine. I had at this point already completed the following:

  1. Legal Name Change
  2. Social Security Name Change
  3. Birth Certificate Name Change
  4. Driver’s License Name Change
  5. Social Security gender marker update
  6. Birth Certificate gender marker update
  7. Driver’s License gender marker update

So I wasn’t too worried, right, I had my name, and gender marker all in alignment, so I was applying for a new passport, fully as female. This would be so easy! It should be processed as any cisgender woman would have her new passport application processed right? That would make sense, name was the same on all documents, gender was the same on all documents, awesome, good to go.


Five months after submitting the application I get a letter from the Department of State via the Passport Office my application is being processed at. They state in the letter “because you have a gender that is incongruent to other legal documents you must submit another medical certification that you have completed medical transition from male to female.Say what? Excuse me? My license, my birth certificate, and my social security identification all had my legal name, and the gender marker female. However, those were not legal enough to issue me a passport? Yes, that really happened. I was told my legal status as a woman could not be defined by state and federal documents that already defined me as a woman, I needed to provide more.

For cisgender readers out there, imagine submitting the same documents I did. And months later you get a letter asking you to ask your doctor to legally, and under the penalty of perjury and imprisonment, confirm you are your gender. That is another step the US government is now including in the process to issue transgender people a passport they have every legal right to, and who have already updated legally every single document. They refuse to acknowledge we are who we say we are. Not to mention I already included two doctors letters in the application stating the wording they asked for.

Here is the reason I was told I needed to add this step. Even though I already had included two letters, and two court orders the official I spoke with stated that because states have differing requirements (even though I also included federal legal documents mind you) and that my old passport showed up the system I needed to prove what I already included was really legal. Remember, this old passport they told me was invalid, and not legal anymore, yeah that one, a non legal, non-binding, expired document needed to be further examined and clarified with ANOTHER letter stating what they others already did.

So, to actually get my passport issued here is what I then had to do.

  1. Call me doctor and get a third signed document verifying I am who I say I am.
  2. Pay for overnight shipping of this letter to the passport office.
  3. Call my district’s House of Representative official. Luckily in North Carolina I live in a blue district and Rep. Butterfield and his staff helped contact the Passport office and demand it was issued. Otherwise it would still be sitting there I guarantee.

Then, after this, including three certified signed letters from doctors, my social security card, my birth certificate, and my license did that say they could issue the passport and mail it to me.

What this shows is that in the midst of all we go through to protect ourselves to update our ids and legal documents the government still refuses to accept, include or protect transgender people. I was made to call multiple different passport officials, I had to prove my identity when in the eyes of the state and federal government, I should already be treated as any cisgender person because I have the same documents. But I wasn’t. The federal government is still refusing to accept we are who we say we are. With the continual actions of the Trump Administration that will continue to get worse. We are seeing medical rights revoked, we saw the Trump team challenged our legal right to work, and they are continuing to find more ways to impose unwritten laws onto proving our existence.

So, if you are applying for a passport, make sure you are ready for a long wait, and make sure you get multiple signed copies of every document because as long as we have a Republican led government they will continue to attempt to strip us of the equality we deserve. Also, call your representatives. Call democratic representatives in your state too. Most importantly to the cisgender folks reading this, speak up. You have never had to prove your identity to a state or federal agent and it is the most humilating experience you could ever imagine. Imagine having to declare on the phone to someone what surgeries have been done to your genitals, imagine having to explain to a rural North Carolinian license processor that they can’t ask what appropriate treatment steps you have taken, and that if they ask again you will record it, and share it with the ACLU. Imagine applying for a passport and getting a call that says we can’t determine if your gender is legal, and if we can’t determine that we can’t allow you to have this passport that you are legally entitled to.

Here are some final steps.

  1. Now more than ever speak up, speak out, and get momentum behind the Senate actually hearing the Equality Act
  2. Begin writing self-recognition of Gender Laws in your state and for the federal government. Partner with national organisations to get these before legislators.
  3. Organise marches and protests
  4. Use social media
  5. Organise at work
  6. Call and demand justice from conservative legislators, fill their emails and voicemails with demands for equality.

All in all, never let the pressure off, because even when we have taken all the legal steps, they will keep adding more, as was my case. But never let them stop us.

The Transition Transmission

The place to embrace the Triumphs and Tribulations of those…

Shana Carroll

Written by

My journey as a trans woman in a world that consistently tries to erase me. I am here and you are welcomed to follow along.

The Transition Transmission

The place to embrace the Triumphs and Tribulations of those who Transitioned and risked everything to live authentically.

Shana Carroll

Written by

My journey as a trans woman in a world that consistently tries to erase me. I am here and you are welcomed to follow along.

The Transition Transmission

The place to embrace the Triumphs and Tribulations of those who Transitioned and risked everything to live authentically.

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