INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Legal Services, Inc (ILSI), MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), the Law Office of Barbara J. Baird, and the Transgender Law Center (TLC) won an important victory on behalf of two transgender immigrant clients who had been seeking legal name changes.
A Court of Appeals of Indiana on Monday unanimously held that a state name-change law does not require a petitioner to be a U.S. citizen to change their name. The Indiana State Attorney General conceded that the citizenship requirement of the name-change law is unconstitutional as applied to these petitioners, who had been granted legal permanent residency or had successfully applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
“Though the Appellate Court’s decision is an application of long-standing appellate precedent, it is important because it ensures that all Hoosiers, regardless of gender identity or immigration status, can access the courts to protect their safety and affirm their dignity,” said Megan Stuart, Director of the LGBT Law Project at Indiana Legal Services.
Monday’s ruling follows a trial court decision that held that the two petitioners were both seeking legal name changes in “good faith and not for fraudulent or unlawful purposes.” However, the trial court believed that it could not grant the petitions because of the statutory language in the name-change law that appeared to require U.S. citizenship. The appellate court sent it back to the trial court with instructions to grant the name-change petitions.
“The ability to choose one’s own name is a quintessential attribute of personhood; it should not be denied simply because an applicant is not yet a citizen,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Indiana judges can certainly evaluate whether a requested legal name change is legitimate just as capably with a non-citizen as with a citizen.”
“The court has affirmed that everyone, regardless of their citizenship status or gender identity, should have the freedom to go about their daily lives without fear of harassment, violence, and discrimination every time they’re asked to present an ID,” said Lynly Egyes, Legal Director at TLC. “The lower court was moved by compelling testimony on the painful daily impacts of not having affirming identification, something we know so many transgender people experience daily. This appellate court decision only further validates the importance of this issue.”
“It has been a long time waiting for our client, who first attempted to file his name change petition four years ago. He is relieved that his identity documents will be corrected, and he is overjoyed that now all non-citizens, regardless of status, will be able to petition for name changes,” said Barbara Baird of the Law Office of Barbara J. Baird.
Read the ruling here.