Metro Weekly

Lawsuit challenges Puerto Rico’s refusal to issue transgender birth certificates

Puerto Rico doesn't allow gender markers to be changed on birth certificates, but does on driver's licenses

San Juan, Puerto Rico – Photo: ethorson, via Flickr.

Lawyers representing three transgender residents of Puerto Rico and an LGBTQ advocacy group have filed papers urging a federal court to strike down Puerto Rico’s policy denying transgender people accurate birth certificates as unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was first filed in April by Lambda Legal on behalf of two transgender women, Daniela Arroyo González and Victoria Rodríguez Roldán, a transgender man known as J.G., and the group Puerto Rico Para Tod@s.

In its complaint, Lambda Legal argues that Puerto Rico’s policy, which does not allow people to amend the gender marker on their birth certificates is unconstitutional, violating the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution and transgender Puerto Ricans’ right to free speech under the First Amendment.

“The ability to define and express one’s identity, and to have that identity respected by the government, is at the  very core of our constitutional rights to individual liberty, dignity, and autonomy,” Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said in a statement.

“The ban endangers transgender people who have identity documents that don’t match who they are by putting them at greater risk for being ‘outed’ as transgender and increasing the likelihood of discrimination, harassment and violence.”

On June 12, the government of Puerto Rico asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico to dismiss the lawsuit. Last week, Lambda Legal filed a motion urging the court to reject that request, strike down the policy, and issue an order to stop the government from trying to enforce those restrictions on birth certificates. 

Having an accurate birth certificate is crucial to obtaining employment, enrolling in school, receiving certain government benefits, and obtaining accurate forms of identification, such as a driver’s license or resident ID card.

“The overwhelming majority of the states in the U.S. recognize this,” Gonzalez-Pagan added. “Forty-six out of the 50 states allow transgender individuals to amend the gender marker. Not to mention, this practice is way out of line with Puerto Rico’s own policy of allowing transgender people to amend their gender marker on driver’s licenses.”

As one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Arroyo-González says the commonwealth’s current policy makes her feel “disrespected, rejected, and invalidated” by Puerto Rico.

“I and all transgender people born on the island deserve to be treated as equal citizens, she said in a statement. “We are not free until we are able to express who we truly are just like the rest of my fellow Puerto Ricans who are not transgender.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com