Nonbinary activist Jamie Windust is petitioning UK’s Parliament for gender-neutral passport options.
While some countries offer a third gender option on passports, the United Kingdom currently does not. Last year, Christie Elan-Cane went up against the High Court seeking permission to use a third gender marker on their passport.
Now, actor and activist Jamie Windust is pressuring the UK government to follow suit with Canada, Australia, Denmark and more in issuing gender-neutral passports.
Windust’s petition to Parliament has over 10,000 signatures, which means the petition will warrant an official response from lawmakers.
Windust spoke with OUT Magazine about the petition and their activism more generally.
‘The petition started because I was in a position where I had to renew my passport. I hadn’t traveled for a while and realized that my passport was expired,’ Windust explains. ‘My first thought wasn’t necessarily about the gender marker. I was concerned I might not be able to visibly present in my picture in the way I present every day. I was concerned the guidelines and some wording would say that [my presentation] was not necessarily truthful, which I found quite stressful because this is how I express myself, I shouldn’t have to not be able to do that on a legal document. And then the second issue was, if I do renew my passport, I will have a passport for the next few years that will have the wrong gender identity on it.’
‘I spoke to a number of trans non binary people about this issue and how they went about it. Many said they had to put their assigned gender of birth on the form. This didn’t really sit right with me. I felt like this might be something that would be very difficult. I wanted to voice my opinion on how bad that is and how we should be able to select a gender neutral option.’
Waiting on the government
Windust and their supporters are still waiting to speak with Parliament themselves about the issue.
‘At the moment the government is quite busy with Brexit. So that is kind of a reason why I thought maybe the response has been delayed. However, I have spoken to a lot of other activists who have been in this position before. They mentioned that in order to garner a response, I actually need to get in touch and try to speak to Parliament myself, to try to get them to get back to me.’
‘There hasn’t necessarily been a push from government because I haven’t heard from them,’ Windust explains. ‘I had a slight inclination with government recently. Because I filmed with the BBC, and as part of filming, they took it upon themselves to reach out to MPs. Two members of Parliament actively said that they didn’t want to comment. Or we weren’t given a reason if they declined to comment. In terms of me reaching out on my own, I have contacted to several members of Parliament and haven’t heard anything at the moment.’
‘There isn’t a very direct way of communicating with them on my own. It seems it can only happen through the media. The main response I receive from the media is that they feel it’s not an issue worth covering. Or they’ll talk about once it reaches 100,000 signatures. For me it’s quite upsetting because the whole point of media is to bring attention to an issue. And I feel like without that, it’s going to be quite difficult.’
The Christie Elan-Cane case
Windust reflected on the Christie Elan-Cane case and was ‘very frustrated’ by the outcome.
‘The reasons for why [adding a gender neutral X] was dismissed, they said that it wouldn’t work because it would be too much of an administrative effort at £2 million, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t actually a lot of money,’ Windust recalls.
‘We have the Gender Recognition Act Consultation last year, which was a government public census for citizens to give their opinions on how they think recognition in the UK could be changed. And what we found during that process was that a lot of transphobic people were inserting themselves in that response. In terms of which the ways the government is thinking about gender at the moment, this huge consultation has basically provided a lot of opinions. And since the general consensus among many people is transphobic, I feel like the UK government is almost giving in to the “debate” around trans and nonbinary people.’
‘I’ve also been informed recently that government’s lack of progress on this issue was because they see it as a potential security threat. They’ve discussed how they feel like it can allow people to self-identify to commit crimes (which is troublesome and a classic rhetoric).’
The media and trans issues
In addition, Windust recognizes the harmful ways the media tends to frame trans issues. They believe it may have played a role in this case.
‘It’s been really, really bad, the way in which trans people are put up for debate in media,’ Windust states. ‘LGBTQ+ people specifically — for instance we had a massive conversation about same-sex education and LGBTQ+ education in schools. I think the government pays too much attention to the media and not listening to actual people on the ground who are campaigning and letting the government know the problems that they face. It’s all getting very muddled, very confused, and it’s very frustrating.’
In terms of next steps, Windust hopes to get as much media coverage for their campaign as possible.
‘The government responds better to petitions and campaigns if they know there is a lot of public support behind them,’ Windust says.
‘It’s proven very difficult. And even when I get press, it’s been very difficult to angle it in a way where the discussions that I am trying to have are not seen as opinions that are up for contention or debate. My next steps are to try to speak specifically to more supportive MPs and people within Parliament that I can begin to have conversations with about the petition.’
‘We’ve got until the end of August [each petition last 6 months] to get it to a 100,000 signatures, so that is a fair amount of time. In about six weeks it’s garnered 10,000 signatures. It’s very draining and very emotionally intense because I’m constantly being set back. I’m constantly being told no. But it is something that I know a lot of people have spoken to me about from… within the trans and nonbinary community. But also people outside of the community are very surprised that the UK government doesn’t already have this implemented. They’re very surprised that this is something they can’t do.’
Windust is trying to stay positive during this process. ‘As trans and nonbinary people we’re used to fighting, but I am optimistic.’
If you are a citizen or resident of the United Kingdom, you can sign Windust’s petition here.