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Trans ex-inmates are fighting for the right to change their name despite past convictions

Vic Parsons November 28, 2019
A prison where a trans inmate could be held

WREXHAM, WALES - MARCH 15: A prison guard walks through a cell area at HMP Berwyn on March 15, 2017 in Wrexham, Wales. The mainly category C prison is one of the biggest jails in Europe capable of housing around to 2,100 inmates. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Eight trans people who have criminal records are suing Illinois for the right to change their legal names.

Under current laws, people with convictions are prohibited from changing their names.

Illinois laws means that access to a legal name change is restricted if you have certain criminal convictions like identity theft.

Reyna Ortiz, 39, is a trans advocate and one of the plaintiffs suing for the right to change her legal name.

She has gone by Reyna for more than 20 years, but it’s not her legal name – and she’s currently unable to make it her legal name, because in 2002 she was convicted for identity theft.

In Illinois, it usually takes around eight weeks to get your name changed legally. But speaking to local news, Ortiz said because of her conviction she is unable to do this.

“You just kind of walk around feeling incomplete as a person,” she said, adding that it’s not just about her: “It impacts a large portion of my community.”

Now, Ortiz and seven other trans people with convictions are bringing a legal case to make it possible for them to change their legal names. They want the courts to recognise that some trans individuals have compelling reasons for being allowed to change their name.

They also argue that it’s unfair for them to live with a lifetime ban on something that other residents of Illinois can obtain in around eight weeks.

“People have already been convicted of a crime,” said lawyer Avi Rudnick, of the Transformative Justice Law Project, who is involved in the case. “Why should they have an extra barrier that is actually creating a public safety issue?”

“Allowing people to have a name change not only decreases their exposure to that violence, but gives them an opportunity to actually get a job and get employed, and to not end up in this cycle of poverty and criminalisation,” Rudnick said.

More: Illinois, name change, Trans inmates

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