Legal name change is now available to non-citizens and transgender people in Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — A Court of Appeals of Indiana has taken the final step in the process and certified a decision that a state name-change law does not require a petitioner to be a U.S. citizen to change their name.

The ruling, issued last week, is now the guiding law in the state of Indiana, and when non-citizens and transgender people face challenges to changing their name, they can cite this case.

The case involves a lawsuit brought by 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) on behalf of two transgender immigrant clients who had been seeking legal name changes.

The Court of Appeals decision followed a trial court decision that held that the two petitioners, both transgender men, were seeking legal name changes in “good faith and not for fraudulent or unlawful purposes.” The trial court incorrectly 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 because the Court of Appeals recognized that proof of U.S. citizenship is not required for someone to change their name.

“Throughout my life when forced to show an ID – including when attempting to access healthcare and employment – I faced humiliation, harassment, and even violence because of my gender identity and citizenship status. This victory is a victory for me, but also for trans people and non-citizens in Indiana who will no longer have to experience these harms. We have made a real change that will have a positive impact on many lives and improve the lives of so many in our state,”  said John Doe, who is represented by Baird, MALDEF and the Transgender Law Center and who has used a pseudonym to protect his privacy.

“Though the Appellate Court’s decision is an application of long-standing appellate precedent, it is important because it ensures that all Hoosiers, regardless 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.

“Choosing your own name is a quintessential right of every human being; denying that right on the basis of citizenship is not only unconstitutional and inconsistent with our national values, but threatens the safety of transgender immigrants,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “This appellate court certification means that the state of Indiana will no longer deny non-citizens a legal change of name, restoring a most basic human right to all who live in Indiana.”

“We celebrate the fact that people in Indiana, regardless of their citizenship status or gender identity, now 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 Shawn Meerkamper, Senior Staff Attorney at TLC. “All people should have access to name changes regardless of where they live, and this decision should be a guiding example to other states.”

Read the ruling here.