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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Trans Immigrant Calls Out Name-Change Policy

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) - A transgender man claims in a federal complaint that the state led by Donald Trump's running mate makes unconstitutional citizenship requirements on legal name changes.

Suing by a pseudonym on Sept. 13, John Doe takes aim at a 2010 Indiana law requiring that any Indiana resident seeking a name change must provide proof of U.S. citizenship.

A 31-year-old Mexican national, Doe says he has lived in the United States since he was 5. He got married in 2014 to a U.S. citizen and won asylum here last year because of his trans status. This summer the Marion County, Indiana, couple welcomed a baby boy.

Doe says he plans to apply for permanent U.S. residency this month but will still have to wait three years before applying for naturalization.

In the meantime, his marriage license uses the female name he was given when he was born. Doe is filing suit now in the Southern District of Indiana to change that.

"Mr. Doe is recognized as male on all official U.S. documents, including his Indiana state ID and his immigration documents, which show the gender marker 'M,'" the complaint states. "However, his legal name remains Jane, a traditionally female name.

"Mr. Doe is not recognized by others as transgender unless he tells them, or unless they see his ID, with his legal name 'Jane.'"

The complaint says such encounters have been traumatic.

Once in 2011, after being pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, Doe says an officer threatened to jail him for carrying a fake ID.

When Doe arranged for a ride home, he says the officer refused to use male pronouns when referring to him. "You can take I-don't-know-what-it-is with you," the officer told Doe's wife, according to the complaint, causing Doe to be "humiliated and dehumanized." (Emphasis in original.)

Two years later, Doe says he had to show his ID at the emergency room for treatment.

"The hospital staff was confused when they first saw his ID. Once they realized that Mr. Doe is transgender, though, their confusion turned to ridicule," the complaint states. "Five of the nurses gathered around to laugh at Mr. Doe. Mr. Doe's doctor was more professional, and he eventually received treatment. Mr. Doe's wife was furious about the incident, but Mr. Doe was too embarrassed to raise the issue with hospital management. No one from the hospital ever apologized to Mr. Doe or his wife for the degrading treatment he received."

In more day-to-day scenarios, Doe says he risks humiliation just to order a drink at a restaurant that might card him.

Discussing his client's case in an interview Matthew Barragan, with the Mexican American Legal Defense And Educational Fund, said the issue is a simple one.

"Transgender [individuals] are forced to out themselves every time they show their IDs," Barragan said. "They just want to change their names so they can live their lives."

Barragan said the issue hits especially hard for transgender immigrants, who have been "unjustly targeted by the Indiana statute."

Indiana's law was intended to prevent identity theft, and it could be seen as a possible preventative measure toward crime, but it has the side effect of needlessly complicating life for immigrants, Barragan said.

Indiana may be the only state that requires proof of U.S. citizenship in a name change, Barragan added.

"We haven't found any other state in our research that has this requirement," the attorney said. "Indiana appears to be unique in this respect."

A press secretary for Gov. Mike Pence refused comment on the suit, citing a policy on pending litigation. Indiana Attorney General Gregory Zoeller's office also said the state would be giving its response to the judge. "The state's lawyers will review the plaintiff's complaint and file a response in court at the appropriate time," a representative said.

Doe is alleging violations of his equal-protection rights under the 14th Amendment and First Amendment freedom-of-speech violations, saying the law makes him unable to "communicate the core of who he is."

Barragan is litigating the case along with Indianapolis attorney Barbara Baird and Ilona Turner with the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, Calif.

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