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Cruel transphobic law that banned trans people from updating their birth certificate ruled unconstitutional

Nick Duffy December 16, 2020
Two of the Ohio lawsuit plaintiffs, Stacie Ray and Basil Argento

Two of the Ohio lawsuit plaintiffs, Stacie Ray and Basil Argento (Lambda Legal)

A cruel policy in Ohio that banned the legal recognition of transgender people on birth certificates has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge.

Alongside Tennessee, Ohio is one of only two US states to maintain a policy that prohibits full gender recognition for transgender people, refusing to permit them to correct the gender marker on their birth certificates.

However, in a landmark victory on Wednesday (16 December), a federal judge sided with four transgender plaintiffs who had sued for their right to get accurate documentation.

One of the plaintiffs, Stacie Ray, was outed as transgender at work when she was required to provide her birth certificate for a new job, leading colleagues to refer to her as a “freak” and threaten to beat her up for using women’s bathrooms.

A second plaintiff, Ashley Breda, was also outed when she was forced to show her birth certificate to an employer. She was told she would “never be a woman” and would “always be a man in God’s eyes”, while her supervisor would go on to misgender her and make comments about her genitalia.

A third, listed as Jane Doe, was humiliated publicly while attempting to change her gender marker with the Social Security Agency, with officials refusing to do so because of her birth certificate designation.

Lambda Legal fellow Kara Ingelhart, plaintiffs Basil Argento and Stacie Ray, Liam Gallagher with ACLU of Ohio
Lambda Legal fellow Kara Ingelhart, plaintiffs Basil Argento and Stacie Ray, Liam Gallagher with ACLU of Ohio (Lambda Legal)

Judge slaps down Ohio’s discriminatory birth certificate law.

Judge Michael Watson, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, granted summary judgment in favour of the plaintiffs as he found the policy violates the equal protection clause of the US Constitution.

The judge found the policy impacted transgender people “in an arbitrary and unequal manner”, noting that people are free to change the name on their birth certificate or add adoptive parents after-the-fact, even as they are banned from updating their gender.

The judge added that “forced disclosure of an individual’s transgender status could subject them to risk of bodily harm” and that outing people via their birth certificates violates the constitutional right for privacy.

Watson also skewered claims from the state’s Republican officials that the discriminatory approach is necessary to maintain the integrity of birth records.

He wrote: “The court does not disagree that accurate records are important, but it would find this argument more persuasive if defendants could explain why permitting someone who is adopted to change the names of their parents on their birth certificate to reflect people other than the individuals identified on the document at birth does not affect the historical accuracy of the document and vital statistics, but changing a sex marker does.

“Moreover, the idea that the State of Ohio has a true interest in maintaining historically accurate records is undermined by the fact that Ohio permitted transgender people to change the sex marker on their birth certificates until 2016.

“Defendants have offered no evidence to explain why ‘historical accuracy’ has only recently become a state interest, or why it was necessary to change its policy to further that interest.”

The judge also slapped down out a disturbing claim that the case should be tossed out because the plaintiffs had not been physically harmed as a result of the policy.

He wrote: “Let the court reiterate, requiring plaintiffs to actually be harmed before having a cognizable claim would not only be legally incorrect, it would be an untenable proposition.

“[The law] does not require courts to wait until plaintiffs are actually assaulted, or worse, to recognize ‘a very real threat to [transgender individuals] personal security and bodily integrity’ upon disclosure of their status.

“The inquiry is not limited solely to whether past forced disclosure subjected plaintiffs to a risk of bodily injury, it is also whether continued forced disclosure it likely to put them at risk of bodily harm in the future as well.”

Ruling ‘affirms the dignity and identity’ of trans people in Ohio.

“This is truly a victory for the LGBT+ community, in every aspect,” plaintiff Stacie Ray said in a release.

Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, said: “Today’s ruling affirms that the state must recognize the dignity and true identity of every transgender Ohioan.

“It is incredibly frustrating that our clients faced years of unlawful discrimination, but today we celebrate this victory as an acknowledgement to their commitment to justice.”

Kara Ingelhart, staff attorney at Lambda Legal, said: “Finally, transgender people from Ohio will be able to correct their birth certificates so that this necessary identity document is consistent with their gender identities.

“Accurate birth certificates are essential. They are foundational to our ability to access a variety of benefits such as employment and housing, and to navigate the world freely and safely, as who we truly are.

“Courts across the country have overwhelmingly determined these archaic and harmful laws are unconstitutional and today we are closer than ever to eradicating them once and for all.”

More: Ohio, Transgender

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