Good News from SSA!

©2013 by Dallas Denny

Good News from Social Security Administration

By Dallas Denny


At the time of my gender transition in 1989 the U.S. Department of State had what was at a time an enlightened policy for passports for transsexuals.

What was that, you ask?

Well, after surgery, they would change the passport to reflect the new gender. That was something for the day. Unless they happened to have been born in or live in a progressive state, transsexuals generally played hell getting any sort of legal documentation. Many states refused to alter birth certificates, or, if they did, they added a stamp notifying the reader of the change. That was like wearing a big “D’oh! I’m transsexual!” sign on one’s forehead. On the local level many jurisdictions refused to issue drivers’ licenses or identity cards reflecting the new gender.

There was good news, however. Standing above petty bureaucratic obstruction at state, local, and national levels and at the State Department itself, the U.S. Department of Passports would change your gender marker– if you presented  a letter from a surgeon indicating your genitals had been changed.

But wait– It gets better.

Transsexuals who could demonstrate they were “in the final stages of treatment prior to surgery” could get a passport in their target gender. The catch was the passport was limited to one year. There was little chance of renewal if the clock ran out, but that single year was a godsend to the many transsexuals, like myself, who were headed overseas for surgery.

This enlightened policy dates from at least 1978. A letter sent to Joanna Clark from Michele Truett, Acting Chief of the Legal Division of the Passport Office describes the policy. The policy was verified on 22 April 1988 by William B. Wharton, Director, Office of Citizenship Appeals and Legal Assistance, Department of State, and re‑verified on 14 July 1989 by Bonnie Lea‑Brown, Attorney Adviser, on behalf of William B. Wharton, Director, Office of Citizenship Appeals and Legal Assistance, Department of State.

In 1990, when I founded the nonprofit American Educational Gender Information Service, Joanna– who had by then taken the name Sister Mary Elizabeth as an Episcopalian Nun– passed the mission and materials of J2CP on to me. J2CP was the name of the nonprofit she and Jude Patton ran, disseminating information about transsexualism. They had taken over the work of Paul A. Walker’s Janus Information Facility, which it turn had passed on the information and materials of the Erickson Educational Foundation. I was passed a torch that had been lit more than twenty-five years earlier, in 1964! I did my best to carry it with honor.

As part of my work with AEGIS I disseminated her letter from the Passport Office. You can read the AEGIS flyer by clicking the tab just below.

Letter from State Dept. to Joanna Clark, 18 August, 1978

Distributed by American Educational Gender Information Service, Inc.


P.O. Box 33724

Decatur, GA30033

 U.S. Passport Policy


Department of State

Washington, D.C.20520

In reply refer to: PT/LS


August 18, 1978

Ms. Joanna M. Clark Director, Legal Research Division Renaissance

Dear Ms. Clark:

I refer to your July 20 letter to the Passport Office.

When an applicant has changed his/her name, the passport will be issued in that name if the applicant presents a court order changing the name. When the applicant has not obtained a court ordered name change, a passport will be issued in the assumed name only when the applicant submits the following:

a) Affidavits executed by two or more persons attesting that they have known the applicant by both names and that the applicant has used the assumed name exclusively for at least the past 5 years;

b) Documentary evidence such as school records, military records, employment records, tax records, or other public records; and

c) Identification in the assumed name only.

A transsexual who meets either of the above requirements may have a passport issued in a new name.

In addition, a transsexual may have the sex designation in the passport changed from that indicated on the birth evidence provided the applicant submits a doctor’s letter which states that the applicant is a post‑operative transsexual or a pre‑operative transsexual who is in the final stages of treatment prior to surgery. If the applicant is post‑operative, a full validity passport will be issued. If the applicant is pre‑operative, a passport valid for one year will be issued. Unless a pre‑operative applicant shows extenuating circumstances, a passport will not be extended until the applicant submits a doctor’s letter stating that the surgery has been performed. The reason for this is, as stated above, a pre‑operative applicant must be in the final stages of treatment prior to surgery before a passport will be issued with the new sex designated therein. This policy is based on 22 U.S.C. U211a which grants the Secretary authority to issue passports “under such rules as the President shall designate…”. Executive Order No. 11295, 31 Federal Register 10603 (1966) designated the Secretary to exercise authority conferred upon by the President by Section 211a. In addition, 22 U.S.C. U2658 provides that “the Secretary of State may promulgate such rules and regulations as may be necessary to carry out the functions… vested in the Secretary of State…”.

Based on the above authority, the Secretary has promulgated rules and regulations pertaining to the issuance of United States passports. Title 22, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 51.24 concerns the issuance of passports to individuals who have changed their names. A copy of the passport regulations is enclosed for your convenience.

There is no regulation which specifically deals with the sex designation in the passport. Our policy explained above is based on the fact that the passport is a document of identity as well as citizenship and is highly regarded as such both domestically and abroad. Accordingly, the passport must be issued with data which best identifies the bearer. We believe that a pre‑operative transsexual whose treatment has progressed to the final stages prior to surgery can, in most cases, be better identified by the new sex.

The passport is limited in validity to one year because, until surgery is completed, issuance with the new sex designation is an accommodation.

I hope this information is of assistance to you.



Michele E. Truitt

Acting Chief. Legal Division

Passport Office

by: Robert W. Knott

Attorney Advisor


Contents of letter verified 22 April 1988 by William B. Wharton, Director, Office of Citizenship Appeals and Legal Assistance, Department of State, Washington, D. C. 20520. Contents of letter re‑verified 14 July 1989 by Bonnie Lea‑Brown, Attorney Adviser, on behalf of William B. Wharton, Director, Office of Citizenship Appeals and Legal Assistance, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520.

I applied for and was  issued a one-year passport in 1990. My reason was an impending appointment with surgeon Michel Seghers in Brussels. Afterward I had fun extending it. You can read about that adventure here. It will go up in a week or so on TG Forum.

In June 2010 the State Department issued new and even more enlightened regulations for changing gender designations in passports. With documented clinical treatment or legal documents in the target gender, the department will change gender designations. There’s no longer a requirement for surgery.

Last week the Social Security Administration announced new regulations that will protect the privacy of transsexuals. Following the lead of the Bureau of Consular Affairs (the new name for the Passport Office), SSA will change designation upon “provision of government-issued documentation that reflects a change, or certification from a physician that confirms that they have received clinical. treatment for gender transition. Surgery is no longer a requirement.

Click on the tab below to read the Human Rights Council’s announcement.

HRC Announcement on New SSA Policy

Human Rights Campaign, DC, USA



Social Security Administration Updates Policy to Protect Privacy of Transgender Individuals


June 14, 2013

By Robin Maril, Legislative Counsel, Administrative Advocacy


Today the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced a new policy that will modernize and standardize the process for changing the gender designation in Social Security records. This new policy will allow transgender people to maintain their privacy and prevent unnecessary outing to Social Security staff and to healthcare providers. Under the revised policy, transgender people will be able to change their gender on their Social Security records by submitting either government-issued documentation that reflects a change, or certification from a physician that confirms that they have received clinical treatment for gender transition. Today’s revised policy removes arbitrary requirements for specific medical treatments in order to update the gender designation in Social Security records. This change is in line with policies adopted by other federal agencies including the Department of State, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Veterans Health Administration. The SSA has also provided staff with guideline on respectful treatment of transgender individuals.

Social Security records are used as a primary entry point for accessing many other forms of identification and records. These records are used in everything from employment to housing. Prior to today’s policy change many transgender people lived with records that failed to reflect their accurate gender and were often incongruent with their other forms of identification. This created a very real threat of unsafe and unnecessary outing of individuals to employers, co-workers, and medical providers. Today’s policy and accompanying guidance is an important step towards ensuring the safety and privacy of transgender people across the country.

HRC urged SSA to take this important step as part of its Blueprint for Positive Change, a series of recommendations to the Obama administration for regulatory and policy changes that would improve the lives of LGBT Americans, without the need for Congress to act. HRC also applauds the work of the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights on their significant work with SSA on this issue. For information on the new policy please visit here or to view the recently published staff guidelines visit here .

Copyright © 2011 -2013 The Human Rights Campaign. All Rights Reserved.

The Center for Transgender Equality has already produced a flyer to explain the changes. You can read it here, and I’ve taken the liberty of placing a PDF in these pages. Click the button just below to read. Click just below that for SSA released.

NCTE, Transgender People and the Social Security Administration (PDF)

 New SSA Policy (PDF)

New SSA Staff Guidelines Regarding Transgendered People (PDF)