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INTERVIEW-UK campaigner eyes final push with 'genderless' passports hearing

by Serena Chaudhry | @SerenaChaudhry | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 17 April 2018 04:00 GMT

Christie Elan-Cane, a British campaigner for "genderless" passports, poses for a photo in Cheltenham, Britain, April 12, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Serena Chaudhry.

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Several countries including Australia, Germany, Pakistan and Ireland already issue genderless passports.

By Serena Chaudhry

CHELTENHAM, England, April 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In a 25-year battle to have the identity of genderless people recognised in British passports, Christie Elan-Cane fought depression and unemployment.

The campaigner, who was born female but identifies as neither male nor female, wants the government to change its passport policy and introduce a third category for people who regard themselves as genderless.

Elan-Cane could move a step closer to realising that goal when the high court holds a hearing on Wednesday and Thursday to review the government's passport policy.

The current system allows applicants to tick only a male or female option, and does not provide for a genderless alternative, which is usually symbolised with an 'X'.

It is the first legal challenge against that policy, Elan-Cane said.

"I'm quite apprehensive because it could go either way, and the future direction of what I'm doing and the lives of a lot of people will be dependent on this," Elan-Cane said.

"I can't remember when I last slept a night," Elan-Cane told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in Cheltenham, a town in southwest England.

The 60-year-old first started campaigning for awareness of genderless people in 1992 after shedding a female identity and taking on a gender-neutral one.

Although Britain recognised the gender identity of trans people in the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, Elan-Cane said the decision to identify as non-gendered had drastic consequences, including being forced out of work and facing discrimination.

"I find it very degrading that I have to fight to achieve (a) legitimate identity that most people can take for granted within gendered society," Elan-Cane said.

After initially raising the issue of 'X-passports' with the British passport office in 1995, the campaigner went on to seek support from a local parliamentarian in 2005.

In 2013, London-based law firm Clifford Chance took on the case pro bono and has since represented Elan-Cane.

Narind Singh, a partner at Clifford Chance who is leading the legal team, said in a statement that X-passports were "a crucial step" in protecting the rights of genderless people.

Without such documents, Singh said, they faced an "unacceptable choice between forgoing a passport, and making a false declaration, and using a passport which misrepresents their identity".

The law firm told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it was hopeful for a positive outcome, but expected it would be weeks before a decision was made.

The British-based charity Stonewall, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, said it supported a move for X-passports, and wanted government documents accurately to reflect gender identity.

"Many trans people are afraid to travel abroad for fear of intrusive questioning or difficulties at passport control," said Laura Russell, head of policy at Stonewall, by email.

Britain would join Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, Malta, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Ireland and Canada if it were to issue genderless passports.

A government spokesperson said it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

Should the court rule the current passport policy unlawful, it could increase pressure to amend the law, Elan-Cane said. And if not, the campaigner said, there was still hope that change would be only a matter of time.

(Reporting by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Robert Carmichael. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)

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