Transgender Ohioans Sue for Right to Change Birth Certificates

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – Three transgender women and one man backed by the American Civil Liberties Union sued Ohio for refusing to let them change the gender on their birth certificates, claiming the policy exposes them to workplace discrimination and a risk of violence.

Columbus resident and Class A truck driver Stacie Ray, 44, was one of four plaintiffs to sue the Buckeye State in Columbus federal court Thursday, alleging two state agencies’ refusal to change the policy violates her equal protection, due process and free speech rights.

In the complaint, filed by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal, Ray describes how Ohio’s policy has put her in humiliating and dangerous situations.

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

After the incident, she says her co-workers refused to talk to her and another woman told her that if she ever saw Ray in the women’s restroom, she would “beat her ass.”

Ray says she felt she had to quit the job for her safety.

“I deserve to have documents that reflect who I am and don’t put me in harm’s way – the same as anyone would want for themselves and their loved ones,” Ray said in a prepared statement.

Forty-six other states and the District of Columbia allow transgender citizens to make changes to their birth certificates, with Idaho to follow suit early next month. Ohio, Tennessee, and Kansas are the only remaining holdouts.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 32 percent of respondents who had shown a form of ID that did not match their gender identity reported that they were harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or faced violence. Two-thirds of respondents said their IDs did not show their preferred gender, with cost being the main barrier to updating IDs or changing legal names.

Ohioans can make the change in other documents, including their driver’s licenses and state IDs. The federal government allows transgender citizens to change their U.S. passports and Social Security information.

The birth certificate policy puts Ohio out of step with the majority of American states, but it also impedes Ohioans who depend on the certificates as they look for jobs, open bank accounts, travel and seek access to health care, education, government benefits and housing, according to the plaintiffs.

“Ohio’s refusal to issue such birth certificates erects a barrier to the full recognition, participation, and inclusion of transgender people in society and subjects them to discrimination, privacy invasions, harassment, humiliation, stigma, harm to their health, and even violence,” the 29-page lawsuit states.

The complaint names as defendants Ohio Department of Health Director Lance Himes, Office of Vital Statistics Chief Karen Sorrell, and Office of Vital Statistics Registrar Judith Nagy. The agencies are responsible for issuing and correcting Ohio birth certificates.

The lawsuit alleges the policy has come in the form of rejection letters that the agencies send to transgender people who have requested changes.

Lambda Legal Law Fellow Kara Ingelhart said the policy exposes her clients to the risk of harassment, discrimination, and violence.

“It also denies them their very identity,” Ingelhart said in a prepared statement. “In fact, government officials in Ohio know this, given that they allow transgender people to change the gender on their drivers’ licenses and state identification cards.”

Co-plaintiff and Italian-American Basil Argento, 42, claims he experienced difficulty securing dual citizenship. He faces the prospect of paying up to $7,500 to a law firm to begin legal proceedings in Italy.

“Ohio’s policy causes me problems here in the U.S., as well as in Italy, my family’s homeland,” Argento said in a statement.

Ray, Argento, and co-plaintiffs Jane Doe and 27-year-old Ashley Breda want a federal judge to declare that the policy is unconstitutional and issue a permanent injunction banning its enforcement.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s spokesman Dan Tierney said the state would respond to the allegations in court.  The Ohio Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last month, the ACLU also took legal action against an Alabama policy that requires transgender men and women to provide proof of sex reassignment before changing the gender designation on their driver’s license.

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