Judge Rules Transgender Ohioans Can Change Birth Certificates

Supporters of the LGBTQ community hold placards in front of the U.S. Supreme Court last year. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Ohio’s refusal to let transgender residents change the gender on their birth certificates is unconstitutional, finding the policy exposes them to workplace discrimination and a heightened risk of violence.

U.S. District Judge Michael Watson in Columbus sided with four transgender individuals, represented by Lambda Legal and the ACLU, who sued over the policy two and a half years ago, claiming it violates their equal protection and due process under the 14th Amendment. 

Watson had previously rejected Ohio’s request to dismiss the case brought by Stacie Ray, Basil Argento, Ashley Breda and Jane Doe, finding last year that the case had merit.

Ray, a 44-year-old Columbus resident and Class A truck driver, described in the complaint how the state’s policy put her in humiliating and dangerous situations. 

In one case, Ray claims she was forced to quit a job just two weeks in after a human resources worker asked her, in front of 10 other new hires, why the gender on her birth certificate did not “match.”

She alleges her co-workers refused to talk to her after that and another woman told her that if she ever saw Ray in the women’s restroom, she would “beat her ass.” Ray said she quit for her own safety. 

In the first line of his ruling Wednesday, Watson pointed out that “Ohio is one of only two states that does not allow a transgender person to change the sex marker on their birth certificates.”

“A 2015 survey revealed that 36% of transgender people in Ohio who showed identification that did not match their sex presentation were harassed, denied benefits or services, asked to leave a place or assaulted,” the judge wrote later in the opinion.

Watson found that Ohio is unfairly singling out transgender people because other residents of the Buckeye State are able to change their birth certificates.

“For example, adoptive parents can amend an adopted child’s birth certificate to reflect the adopted parents’ names, and individuals who have legally changed their names can have a birth certificate modified to reflect that change,” the ruling states. “Thus, the court finds that defendants’ policy treats transgendered people differently than similarly situated Ohioans.” 

With Watson striking down the Ohio policy, Tennessee is left as the only state to not allow gender changes on birth certificates. The Volunteer State’s policy is also being challenged by Lambda Legal.

Ray applauded Watson’s decision in a statement provided by the ACLU.

“This is truly a victory for the LGBT community, in every aspect,” she said. 

Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio said the ruling “affirms that the state must recognize the dignity and true identity of every transgender Ohioan.”

“It is incredibly frustrating that our clients faced years of unlawful discrimination, but today we celebrate this victory as an acknowledgement to their commitment to justice,” she said in a statement.

State officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Lambda Legal staff attorney Kara Ingelhart said accurate birth certificates “are foundational to our ability to access a variety of benefits such as employment and housing, and to navigate the world freely and safely, as who we truly are.”

“Courts across the country have overwhelmingly determined these archaic and harmful laws are unconstitutional and today we are closer than ever to eradicating them once and for all,” Ingelhart said.

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