Transgender Women Fight Illinois Name-Change Law

CHICAGO (CN) – Eight transgender women with past felony convictions sued the Cook County state’s attorney over Illinois’ restrictive name change law, claiming it hinders their right to self-identify and places them at risk by forcing them to repeatedly out themselves in public.

“The Illinois name change statute is by far the most onerous in the country in the wait time it imposes for persons convicted of felonies to file petitions for name changes,” according to the complaint filed Wednesday in Chicago federal court by Greenberg Traurig attorney Gregory Ostfeld.

Lead plaintiff Reyna Angelina Ortiz, given name Raymond, has gone by her chosen name since 1993 but was convicted of identity theft in 2003.

In Illinois, people convicted of a felony must wait 10 years to change their name after discharging their sentence, but anyone convicted of identity theft is barred for life from filing a name change petition under state law.

“The Illinois name change statute denies Reyna her fundamental right to self-identify by legally changing her name to her chosen name, as demonstrated every time she is required to engage in compelled speech and to out herself as a transgender woman by presenting her government-issued identification,” the complaint states.

Ortiz claims she has been refused service at the post office because the employee did not believe her to be the person identified on her government-issued ID, and the Illinois secretary of state’s office initially rejected her application to change her gender marker on her ID.

Every time she goes out to a bar or restaurant, she is forced to out herself to employees who often loudly comment about her gender identification, placing her at risk of harm, Ortiz claims.

Further, Ortiz says she would like to go back to school but fears being outed in class because she would have to register under her legal name.

“The ability to change her legal name would allow Reyna to live her life as herself, free from the forced outing that takes place every time she is required to present a government-issued identification or to be called by her legal name in public,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the Illinois name change law is unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiffs, and an injunction preventing the state from denying their name change petitions.

In addition to attorney Ostfeld, the women are also represented by Lark Mulligan of the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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