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UK could become 10th country in the world to get gender neutral passports

After a 25 year fight, a landmark case could create a non-gender specific passport marker in the UK

UK could become 10th country in the world to get gender neutral passports
Christie Elan-Cane has been fighting for non-gender specific people's rights for 25 years | Photo: Gay Star News

Christie Elan-Cane is the non-gendered activist seeking legal recognition for individuals who do not identify as either male or female – and the campaign could be about to change British passports for everyone.

It’s a fight Elan-Cane has been pursuing for 25 years. Now, 2018 could see the Non-Gendered campaign finally achieve one of it’s goals.

In April, the UK courts will hear a judicial review on allowing UK passports to have a non-gender specific alternative.

Elan-Cane who identifies as non-gendered uses the pronouns per, rather than he or she.

Clifford Chance the law firm representing Christie’s case pro-bono considers the case to be of ‘significant public interest.’

‘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,’ Clifford Chance Partner Narind Singh tells Gay Star News.

And internationally there are multiple precedents for the ‘X option’. Gender non-specific options are available in nine countries including Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, Malta, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Canada. With Ireland also considering the option, could the UK be next?

‘Perhaps more pertinently for Elan-Cane’s case – under international aviation rules managed by the UN, X is already a recognized non gender-specific option.’

With multiple international precedents already set, does this work in Elan-Cane’s favor?

Despite the case being just around the corner, per is both hopeful but ultimately apprehensive over whether it will deliver a positive decision.

Afterall, it’s been a long fight – with many setbacks – to get to this point:

Turning fear of criminalization for being non-gender specific, into activism

Elan-Cane has been fighting for non-gendered options in UK official documents since 1992.

However, it was in 2005 when per focused in on ‘X’ passports. That’s when the UK government, ran by the Labour party, was planning to bring in compulsory ID cards for all citizens.

The ID card shakeup would have had huge cost implications to the country. But it also would have had social implications for citizens too.

However, after a partial rollout, the next coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats scrapped the scheme in 2010.

But, for nearly five years the proposals were under regular discussion. Including with a high level of media hype around them. This left Elan-Cane feeling an enormous psychological pressure and fear:

‘I’d lived with the impending threat of this scheme for more than five years. I was genuinely fearful that at some point in the future I would face prosecution by the state.’

And that’s because it was always per intention to refuse an ID card if per had to choose a male or female identity for it.

After plans for the scheme were shelved, Elan-Cane resolved never to live in that fear again. From then on, dedicating life to fighting for non-gender specific recognition.

Blue passports will cost 240 times more than adding an ‘X’ option would cost

The UK Home Office recently announced they will be changing the color on UK passports from burgundy to navy blue after Brexit.

And the cost of the new contract announced earlier in the year will £480m ($670m, €565m).

Upon the news of the blue passports, Elan-Cane cried hypocrisy after the UK Home Office told per a £2million figure was the ‘prohibitively expensive’ reason they could not implement the call for ‘X’ non-gendered passports.

Spending money on a new passport contract, without including the X option – feels like just another lost opportunity in a 25-year history of setbacks:

‘The Government perceives the blue passport as symbolic to the national identity. What about the personal identity – and the integrity – of the passport holder?

‘I’m very angry that this ongoing battle with governing authorities has dominated my life. I just want to achieve legitimate identity that most other people can take for granted’

Why is Clifford Chance supporting this case?

Access to justice is an integral part of Clifford Chance’s responsible business strategy. The firm says it is proud to be supporting Christie’s Non-Gendered pioneering campaign.

Clifford Chance Partner Narind Singh says working with Non-Gendered has helped the firm learn that people in this marginalized group are forced to conceal and deny their identities due to lack of societal provision.

‘The impact of this is devastating and allowing X Passports would be a crucial step towards protecting their human rights.’

Eraldo d’Atri, Clifford Chance Senior Associate on the case has strong hopes for a positive outcome:

‘There are very good legal grounds underpinning Christie’s application and many other countries already allow ‘x-passports’. So we’re hopeful that the UK will join them in making this positive step forwards. We, alongside an important section of the community, would be very disappointed if what we and leading counsel regard as compelling legal arguments to effect a change are not accepted.’

Elan-Cane is too, reasonably sure they will have a positive outcome in the end.

‘If I do not succeed in changing discriminatory government policy then others will follow until finally, someone achieves a breakthrough,’ per says.

‘But, whatever happens in the future, I can never get back the last 25+ years and the fight I’m engaged in should not have deliberately been made so hard. All I’m asking for is fair treatment, requiring that my identity is legally and socially recognized.’

Read more about Clifford Chance:

I wear a rainbow lanyard at work with pride – this is why you should too

Clifford Chance uses partnership to grow National Student Pride


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