UK’s Supreme Court rejects appeal for gender-neutral passports

This was the first-ever trans civil rights case to be heard by the UK’s highest court.

Left: Christie Elan-Cane and per legal team outside the Supreme Court before appealing to introduce gender-neutral passports. Right: A British passport.
Image: Right: Twitter: @ChristieElanCan, Right: Unsplash

The UK’s Supreme Court has rejected an appeal to introduce gender-neutral passports in what is a disappointing ruling for queer activists. Presented to officials in July 2021, this was the first-ever trans civil rights case to be heard by the UK’s highest court.

The case was brought by non-gendered activist Christie Elan-Cane who uses per/per/perself pronouns, and who fought to have an ‘X’ gender marker option for British passports. President of the Supreme Court, Lord Reed, offered a short oral statement in response to the appeal, saying it had been “unanimously dismissed” by the court.

He continued by agreeing with the argument of the Home Office lawyers, who said having ‘X’ gender markers available would have “adverse implications for the security aspects for the use of passports” and “result in substantial administrative costs”.

Elan-Cane argued that an ‘X’ gender marker would provide per with the right to respect for private life, which is guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Supreme Court ruling responded to this by saying that per right to private life is “outweighed by the public interest” in “maintaining a coherent approach across government and the legal system […] when it comes to which gender categories, beyond male and female, should be recognised”.

Gender-neutral passports have come into effect in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, India, Malta, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nepal, Pakistan, Uruguay, and the United States, and comply with the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation’s accepted standards for Machine Readable Travel Documents. While the UK’s Supreme Court has rejected to introduce them for British citizens, the nation does recognise gender-neutral passports issued in other countries.

Elan-Cane has been campaigning for almost 30 years to achieve legal and social recognition, and this ruling will be hugely disappointing for the activist. Prior to the verdict being released, Elan-Cane issues a statement saying: “Legitimate identity is a fundamental human right but non-gendered people are treated as though we have no rights. The battle for ‘X’ passports has been long, hard and totally unnecessary.

“I hope that justice is finally served on 15 December however my legal team and I remain committed to taking this case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if we cannot get justice in the UK.” 

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