Intersex Activist Sues Government After Being Denied Passport

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Checking the male or female box on a piece of paper is privilege many of us go our entire lives taking for granted. But for Dana Zzyym those two boxes act as a constant reminder that gender neutrality is not a socially recognized option in the United States. Now Zzyym hopes to raise awareness and compel change by suing the U.S. government for denying people the right to select “X” as an option on U.S. passports.

Lambda Legal, an LGBT civil rights group, filed the lawsuit Monday on behalf of Zzyym, stating that the U.S. State Department and Colorado Passport Agency denied Zzyym fundamental rights “including the freedom of travel” by not recognizing gender identity beyond male and female.

Zzyym, 57, was born with ambiguous genitalia, and therefore has chosen neither to identify as female or male, but as intersex. So for purposes of this article I will use the gender-neutral pronouns “they,” “their,” and “them” when referring to Zzyym.

It took Zzyym over four decades to understand that the conflicting feelings they had experienced relating to gender dated back to birth, and that their parents had tried to hide their non-binary biology with painful irreversible surgeries to make them pass as male. After exploring both genders and even having female genital surgery,  the Navy veteran chose to change their name from Brian Orin Whitney to Dana Alix Zzyym, and went on to became an outspoken activist for the intersex community.

According to BuzzFeed, in September 2014 Zzyym went to their local Denver, Colorado passport agency to apply for a passport in order to travel to Mexico City to attend the International Intersex Forum they’d been asked to speak at. Zzyym arrived with all the necessary documents, including a letter explaining that they were intersex, and requested to use “x” as a marker for gender. But a couple weeks later they received a letter from the State Department saying it was unable to fulfill their request, and that in order to move forward it needed to either “(a) relieve a passport listing Dana as female, (b) receive a passport listing Dana as male, or (c) withdraw Dana’s application.”

The request came as a blow for Zzyym, especially when countries like Australia, India, Malta, Nepal, Germany, and New Zealand all issue passports with alternative gender markers to the standard “M” or”F.” Lambda Legal staff attorney Paul Castillo told BuzzFeed News,

Foreign nationals who have the X marker on their passports are permitted to enter U.S. and yet we’re denying the same rights to own citizens. When you are allowing foreign nationals more rights than you do your own citizens with respect to the same document, there has to be something wrong.

Instead of seeking any monetary compensation, Zzyym is asking simply for a policy change that would allow them to exit the country with a gender label of their choosing. But if we use the nation’s responses to other LGBTQI issues as predictor of the outcome, we can expect a long time before Zzyym and other intersex citizens are rewarded with equal rights.

Alexis Evans
Alexis Evans is an Assistant Editor at Law Street and a Buckeye State native. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a minor in Business from Ohio University. Contact Alexis at



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