Nonbinary people know this problem well: if you want a passport (or just about any other legal document), there’s a dreaded gender option. This is not the case in a handful of countries, including India and Canada, but in the United Kingdom, Jamie Windust is lobbying Parliament to change that. Windust recently created a petition requesting Parliament amend their passport policies to allow for a gender neutral option. Windust's petition, has amassed 10,000 signatures, enough to warrant an official response from the British Parliament. I spoke with Windust to dive deeper into why they started this petition, what they hope it will accomplish for trans activism, and what they plan to do while awaiting Parliament’s response.
Out: Talk to me about the petition. What compelled you to start it?
Jamie Windust: 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. 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.
When you advocate for the petition on social media, what do you say to others about of why they should sign the petition?
In terms of trying to garner support, I realize that obviously I do have support from the trans and nonbinary community because we’re very close-knit. Otherwise, when trying to get other people to sign it, I welcome it as an act of allyship, because it will push it to get further into the media and hopefully get a response from government. We are still awaiting response from government. 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 and 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.
Assuming you’ve reached out to Parliament, has there been any push back or any response at all?
There hasn’t necessarily been a push from government because I haven’t heard from them. 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 and 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.
Last year Parliament denied Christie Elan-Cane, who is nonbinary, a gender marker change on their passport. Why do you think there’s such a large pushback by the government when British policies allow the UK’s border patrol to accept non binary passports from other countries?
It’s very frustrating, this case that was fought by Christie last year. It was an amazing campaign, and one they had worked on for a long time. 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. 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 believe another massive part of this is the media. It’s been really, really bad, the way in which trans people are put up for debate in media. 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.
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).
New York, Germany, and Iceland can and do face similar threats, yet they are are all moving forward with very progressive laws and regulations. We long have been a country that was at the forefront of change, and we’re one of the biggest countries in the world. It’s frustrating that they have so many barriers to implement a change that is very simple and not that expensive, and it will change a lot of people’s lives.
As you await a response from the Parliament, what are the next steps?
The next steps are to build as much media attention around the campaign as possible, because the government responds better to petitions and campaigns if they know there is a lot of public support behind them. 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 both 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.
I’m also building a case study to show to Parliament that other countries are doing this, or other organizations, such as when United Airlines recently announced they’re going to allow their passengers to identify as nonbinary. In the UK we allow people to enter our country using nonbinary passports issued by other countries, but we won’t implement a nonbinary code into our own systems. All this information is very valuable because I can use it to get a lawyer to help me build this case so that when I do get to speak to the government, I have a solid amount of evidence.
Also, I’m just trying to keep a very positive mindset, while also trying to be practical, but I have hope that I will get into these spaces. In the UK, a woman named Gina Martin, the woman that led a campaign that helped make upskirting illegal, has been a real help on guiding me through the process and giving me solid advice, so I feel positive about it. Part of me is not surprised that this is reaction from the UK media and the UK government, but also, it’s not something new. As trans and non binary poeple we’re used to fighting, but I am optimistic.