In the United States a number of states practice severe Name and Gender Change Laws that perpetuate discrimination towards members of the transgender or transexual community. Unjust aspects of these laws complicate the processes of name and gender changes contributing to transphobia among the general public and gender injustices and inequalities.
Regarding the Name Change Laws, a number of states have unclear laws, require a public announcement of one’s name change, and implement additional restrictions and/or requirements in regards to individuals with a criminal record.
Regarding the Gender Change Laws, there are two jurisdictions: Birth Certificate policies, and Driver’s License policies. Regarding the Birth Certificate policies, a number of states apply unclear laws or have an unclear (or even unknown/unrecoverable) written policy regarding the applicable procedure, it is required proof of sex reassignment surgery, and some state do not allow at all for allowing individuals to amend their gender on their birth certificate.
In regards to the Driver’s License policies, a number of states have burdensome processes and requirements or do provide the public with only a limited range of professionals and officials that can deal with such process; when available policy are unclear, unknown to the officials mandated with the processes, or unwritten workflows are followed in an uncontrolled way and in a ad-hoc manner and often it follows the requirement of a proof of surgery, a court order, or an amended birth certificate. These aspects of the Name and Gender Change Laws are severe and simply serve as a tool to stunt progress in civil rights, promote transphobia, and foster discrimination.
Severe Name Change Laws
Name change laws are what govern the processes by which a state can change the legal name of individuals on their documents. Many members of the trans community choose to change their legal name on their identity documents so that it can align with their gender identity. “Requirement of public name change announcement is unclear, circumstantial, or under individual court’s discretion” (MAP) Twenty-six states in the United States do not clearly outline the policies regarding the public announcement of the name change of an individual. Some of these states include, but are not limited to: Oklahoma, Missouri, and New York. Such unclear policies only serve to complicate the name changing process of a member of the trans community (MAP). This creates difficulties and obstacles that members of the trans community are subjected to deal with in a discriminatory fashion. The states that apply these unclear policies regarding name changes do not acknowledge the necessity for such policies to be made clear for officials and for members of the trans community who desire to change their name into a gender neutral one of from a stereotypical feminine name to a stereotypical masculine name, or vice versa. For example, in the state of New York, there is per se no name change law, thus if members of the trans community were to want to change their name so that it better reflects their gender identity such process would be demanding on the individual and complicated and unclear for the official to follow.. Furthermore, the lack of policies in these states regarding the name change laws is discriminatory as it promotes ‘traditional’ thoughts negating the necessity of the trans community at large to have access to identity documents that would reflect their gender identity.
“State law requires public announcement of name change” (MAP). Ten states in the United States require a public announcement of an individual’s name change. Such states include, but are not limited to: Georgia, Nevada, and South Dakota. This law can endanger members of the trans community, making their personal information public unnecessarily, informing other individuals in society with no relation or direct legal interest about their name change thus turning it, de-facto, into a public affair directly violating an individual’s right to privacy. This environment create the condition for discrimination towards the trans community and individuals may thus suffer from hate crimes arising from their unnecessary exposure and other acts driven by transphobia. For example, for a Georgia Name Change case one can read: “They make us appear in open court, or take out an ad in the newspaper, to announce that we’re changing out name from Kate to Kevin, or from Kevin to Kate. They say this is necessary for ‘accuracy’ and ‘fraud prevention’” (National Center for Transgender Equality). This process basically assists in the process of outing a member of the trans community disclosing their name changes.
“State law includes additional restrictions and/or requirements for individuals with a criminal record” (MAP). Nineteen states practice this rule of law. Such states include, but are not limited to: Illinois, Ohio, and North Carolina. Such restrictions for members of the trans community with criminal records renders them unable to change their name or forces them to go through a very complicated and unclear legal procedure which does not always end with a grant in name changing causing financial burdens as well. For example, in the state of Illinois “Individuals who are not currently incarcerated but have a felony conviction within the last ten years are not permitted to change their name” (MAP). Such a policy is clearly unreasonable considering the flaws in the judiciary systems that are driven by homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and racism. A clear policy and procedure would not prevent the transfer of criminal record to the new identity of an individual who has gone through name change to reflect gender identity. A clear process and workflow would cover successfully all cases while granting the rights of the individuals at the same time as their debts toward the society if applicable. A great demographic of the trans community in the United States is African American. Due to such laws and injustices within the judiciary systems, a clear bias is always present and individuals are prejudiced against, which often results in more severe and disproportionate convictions or even wrongful ones. As such, these laws promote discrimination towards the trans community and should be rectified or modified in order to properly address the rights of the trans community.
Severe Gender Change Laws
“State has no form. No court order or proof of surgery required, but burdensome process requirements and/or provider certification required from limited range of professionals” (MAP). Twelve states practice this form of law. Such states include, but are not limited to: Idaho, Kansans, and Utah. These burdensome processes and requirements are the product of state public’s ignorance and a willingful un-acknowledgment of the needs of members of the trans community in these state. Furthermore, the limited range of professional de-facto overdraws the process turning what should be a simple and straightforward workflow into a true ordeal. For example, in the state of Kansas the gender change law regarding an individual’s drivers license does not have gender neutral option and creates for a burdensome and complicated process (MAP). Such states who practice this kind of rule of law simply facilitate discrimination towards the trans community and negates human rights progress further complicating a process which should be fair, simple, and directly achievable.
“State has unclear, unknown or unwritten policy regarding gender marker changes” (MAP). Five states in the United States have a variety of complications regarding their policies, these complications only perpetuate so-called “traditional values” state officials are opposed to a change deemed as unpopular among the large public. When a state lacks such policies it show their inability or unwillingness to promote social progress and human rights of minorities. These states include, but are not limited to: Arkansas, North Dakota, and Mississippi. For example in the state of North Dakota the policies regarding changing an individual’s name on their driver license is unwritten and not clearly known. Moreover, it does not offer gender neutral option. These five states are perpetuating discrimination while not allowing for progress to be made in social equality and human rights by preventing members of the trans community to be acknowledged and their needs and rights to be considered.
“State requires proof of surgery, court order, or amended birth certificate” (MAP). Ten states in the United States require such elements. These states include, but are not limited to: Texas, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. States that require these elements to amend the gender on an individual’s driver license are negating the necessities of transgender community members when they are yet to or choose not to undergo a sex change surgery and thus will be prevented from changing their name to one which they identify their gender with. Furthermore, this becomes a greater issue when a state complicates the process with the requirement to amend first one’s birth certificate or prevents it entirely in reality. For example, the state of Texas requires proof of surgery and also does not provide gender neutral option for the gender indicated on driver licenses. Such a limitation forced on the gender change laws over-complicates the process and discriminates against members of the transgender community.
“State is unclear regarding surgical/clinical requirements and/or may require a court order to change gender marker” (MAP). Nine states in the United States do not provide clear instructions and responsibilities of involved actors regarding these elements. These states include, but are not limited to Alaska, Wyoming and West Virginia. Such unclear policies complicate unnecessarily the process to follow for members of the trans community. Furthermore, the surgical and clinical requirements, as well as the necessity of a court order to change an individual’s gender marker, place limitations on members of the transgender community who are yet to or choose not to undergo a sex change. For example, the state of Alaska enforces such requirements with the only end results that it ostracizes members of the transgender community un-acknowledging their necessities and presence in the public society. Such obstacles are discriminatory towards the trans community, are unacceptable in a modern and civil society protecting all of its minorities, and shall change.
“State has unclear, unknown or unwritten policy regarding gender marker changes” (MAP). Three states in the United States have uncertain policies in relation to gender marker changes. These include: Texas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. These states’ policies prevent progress as they fail to apply to members of the trans community who require clarifications in the application of these policies so that they may start and undergo through the necessary process to change their official gender. For example, in South Carolina individuals cannot amend their birth certificate. This prevents members of the trans community from having their legal identity correspond to their personal identity. Such a policy only perpetuates a climate fostering hate crimes and encouraging members of the public to not truly see you as the gender you identify with, to ignore the issue, or worse when it is actually condemned.
“State requires proof of sex reassignment surgery in order to change gender marker” (MAP). Seventeen states in the United States require proof of sex change to change an individual’s gender. These include, but are not limited to: Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama. Such proof entails a violation of privacy for the transexual community and negates rights to identify with a certain gender for the transgender community. For example, in the state of Virginia such proof is a requirement and completely ignores the needs of their transgender community. Furthermore, this is promoting the notion that you cannot identify with a gender different to what your genitalia look like, thus a woman cannot choose to identify as a man simply due to her not possessing a penis and having breasts. This promotes the discrimination of the transgender community, encouraging ignoring or even negating their existence, and prevents progress of public’s thought and consideration.
“State does not allow for amending the gender marker on the birth certificate” (MAP). Three states in the United States prevent an individual to change their gender legally. These include: Ohio, Kansas, and Tennessee. Such a law is extremely damaging to the trans community and perpetuates transphobia and hate crimes as these individuals will face difficulties in the workplace and their day to day lives. For example in Ohio an individual cannot modify the gender present on their birth certificate. Such a limitation will prevent individuals to legally identify with the gender they personally identify with. This perpetuates mental illness as such a ban damages the identify of a trans individual and therefore is discriminatory towards the trans community.
These severe elements of the Name and Gender Change laws damage progress for the trans community in the United States. These laws that may not seem damaging or discriminatory to individuals which are not directly affected by them and the laws need to be rectified. The United States need to re-evaluate these damaging policies. The Name Change Laws are unnecessarily severe and perpetuate discrimination by complicating the processes and, sometimes, even impeding them. Similarly, the Gender Change Laws are also demeaning towards the trans community, and certainly prevent change of progress in human rights at large, and slow down the acceptance of the trans communities in the United States. States statutorily are “allowing for the amendment of birth certificates in the event of sex-reassignment. Unlike other LGBT rights laws, these policies appear in a number of relatively conservative states” (Taylor 265). Such laws go against LGBT rights and are transphobic towards members of the transgender community.
Overall it is clear that a change needs to occur. These Name and Gender Change Laws need to be modified in order to enable and simplify the underlying processes for members of the trans community. Their battle in the United States is already so grand and significant that state laws should facilitate these processes and not overcomplicate them, promoting at the same time discriminatory behaviors and transphobia. Although the United States is a country that promotes on paper LGBT rights, it does have a long way to come. Many states, such as the ones listed above, do not score well in practicing and promoting LGBT rights in the application of their laws and thus are de-facto enablers for hate to thrive and do deeply affect the everyday lives of members of the trans communities in their respective state. This is why I have, as a member of the Human Rights Watch, decided to address these gender policy issues and wish to raise awareness of these same as they are in direct violation of the rights to privacy and the right every individual should have to define his or her gender identity.
- “Birth Certificate.” Movement Advancement Project, http://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/identity_document_laws/birth_certificate
- “Driver’s License.” Movement Advancement Project, www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/identity_document_laws/driver’s_license
- “Name Change Laws.” Movement Advancement Project, 2017, www.lgbtmap.org/img/maps/citations-id-name-change.pdf.
- “Name Change.” Movement Advancement Project, www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/identity_document_laws/name_change
- “Name Changes and Forced Outing: a Small Victory.” National Center for Transgender Equality, 13 Feb. 2015, transequality.org/blog/name-changes-and-forced-outing-a-small-victory.
- Tadlock, Barry L., and Sarah J. Poggione. “Birth Certificate Amendment Laws and Morality Politics.” Transgender Rights and Politics: Groups, Issue Framing, and Policy Adoption, edited by Jami K.