July 2016 Archives

Yesterday brought this tweet up:

This is amazingly bad wording, and is the kind of thing that made the transpeople in my timeline (myself included) go "Buwhuh?" and me to wonder if this was a snopes worthy story.

No, actually.

The key phrase here is, "submit your prints for badges".

There are two things you should know:

  1. NASA works on National Security related things, which requires a security clearance to work on, and getting one of those requires submitting prints.
  2. The FBI is the US Government's authority in handling biometric data

Here is a chart from the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification, which describes a kind of API for dealing with biometric data.

If Following Condition ExistsEnter Code
Subject's gender reported as femaleF
Occupation or charge indicated "Male Impersonator"G
Subject's gender reported as maleM
Occupation or charge indicated "Female Impersonator" or transvestiteN
Male name, no gender givenY
Female name, no gender givenZ
Unknown genderX

Source: EBTS Version 10.0 Final, page 118.

Yep, it really does use the term "Female Impersonator". To a transperson living in 2016 getting their first Federal job (even as a contractor), running into these very archaic terms is extremely off-putting.

As someone said in a private channel:

This looks like some 1960's bureaucrat trying to be 'inclusive'

This is not far from the truth.

This table exists unchanged in the 7.0 version of the document, dated January 1999. Previous versions are in physical binders somewhere, and not archived on the Internet; but the changelog for the V7 document indicates that this wording was in place as early as 1995. Mention is also made of being interoperable with UK law-enforcement.

The NIST standard for fingerprints issued in 1986 mentions a SEX field, but it only has M, F, and U; later NIST standards drop this field definition entirely.

As this field was defined in standard over 20 years ago and has not been changed, is used across the full breadth of the US justice system, is referenced in International communications standards including Visa travel, and used as the basis for US Military standards, these field definitions are effectively immutable and will only change after concerted effort over decades.

This is what institutionalized transphobia looks like, and we will be dealing with it for another decade or two. If not longer.


The way to deal with this is to deprecate the codes in documentation, but still allow them as valid.

The failure-mode of this comes in with form designers who look at the spec and build forms based on the spec. Like this example from Maryland. Which means we need to let the forms designers know that the spec needs to be selectively ignored.

At the local level, convince your local City Council to pass resolutions to modernize their Police forms to reflect modern sensibilities, and drop the G and N codes from intake forms. Do this at the County too, for the Sheriff's department.

At the state level, convince your local representatives to push resolutions to get the State Patrol to modernize their forms likewise. Drop the G and N codes from the forms.

At the Federal employee level, there is less to be done here as you're closer to the governing standards, but you may be able to convince The Powers That Be to drop the two offensive checkboxes or items from the drop-down list.

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