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US State Department in Solidarity With Intersex Persons but Faces Lawsuit

Dana Zzyym of Fort Collins, Colo., right, talks about the arguments in a hearing on Zzyym's lawsuit requiring people to pick a gender to get a passport outside the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Denver, July 20, 2016.

The State Department on Thursday recognized Intersex Awareness Day and said the United States stands in solidarity with intersex persons around the world. The statement comes as the department faces a discrimination lawsuit on the issue.

"We recognize that intersex persons face violence, discrimination, harassment, and persecution on account of their sex characteristics," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said. "At a young age, intersex persons routinely face forced medical surgeries without free or informed consent. These interventions jeopardize their physical integrity and ability to live freely."

The State Department said it reaffirms its strong commitment to promoting a world where all persons can freely and equally express themselves with dignity, regardless of sex characteristics.

"Intersex" is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fit the typical definitions of male or female.

The statement Thursday comes as the department faces a federal discrimination lawsuit from nonprofit Lambda Legal group on behalf of intersex American and U.S. navy veteran, Dana Zzyym.

Zzyym was denied a U.S. passport because only two choices were available for gender marker on the passport application form, either male or female.

"Dana has been fighting for almost three years for an essential identity document that accurately reflects who they are," Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Paul Castillo said in an October 10 press release. "The U.S. District Court ordered the State Department to reconsider its binary-only gender policy barring use of a third gender marker on U.S. passports."

Lambda Legal says many intersex people identify as male or female, but some, like Zzyym, do not. Zzyym uses the gender-neutral pronouns "they," "them" and "their" and was born with ambiguous sex characteristics.

Lambda Legal outlined Zzyym's struggle.

"Shortly after Dana's birth, their parents and doctor decided to raise them as a boy. As a result, Dana underwent several irreversible, painful and medically unnecessary surgeries that didn't work, traumatized Dana and left them with severe scarring."

Later in life, Zzymm began educating the public about issues facing intersex people and applied for a passport to travel to a forum in Mexico, but the application was denied.

In October 2015, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado against the U.S. State Department for violating the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The court issued a ruling in favor of Zzyym in November of 2016. However, the case has been reopened because the State Department continues to refuse a gender marker that is neither male nor female on its passport applications.

Asked to comment on the lawsuit, the State Department told VOA: "As a matter of policy, we are unable to comment on pending litigation."

In tweets Thursday, Lambda Legal called the State Department statement recognizing Intersex Awareness Day hypocritical and said the department should "take its own advice & help end violence, discrimination, harassment, persecution of intersex people."