Metro Weekly

LGBTQ advocates sue Ohio over anti-transgender birth certificate law

Ohio is one of only three states that don't allow gender markers to be amended at any time, for any reason

Joseph P. Kinnerary U.S. Courthouse – Photo: Library of Congress, via Wikimedia.

Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and ACLU of Ohio are suing the Buckeye State for a policy that prohibits people from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates, for any reason, at any time.

Ohio is one of only three states, including Tennessee and Kansas, that will not change gender markers even when the person has undergone gender confirmation surgery and has written confirmation from a physician or medical provider that they’ve undergone a gender transition. But interestingly, Ohio allows people to change gender markers on other legal documents, including driver’s licenses, state IDs, U.S. passports, and social security papers.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, has been brought on behalf of three transgender women and a transgender man who are wrongly identified according their assigned sex at birth on their state-issued birth certificates. The lawsuits alleges that Ohio’s policy of refusing to update gender markers violates their right to equal protection, due process, and freedom from compelled speech, and that there is no government justification for the policy. 

“Accurate identity documents are essential to every person’s ability to navigate through life,” lawyers for the plaintiffs write in their complaint. “Access to employment, education, housing, health care, banking, travel, and government services often depend on having documentation that accurately reflects a person’s identity. A birth certificate is a basic identity document routinely relied upon for many purposes, including as a prerequisite to obtain other essential identity documents.

“Ohio’s refusal to issue such birth certificates erects a barrier to the full recognition, participation, and inclusion of transgender people in society and subjects them to discrimination, privacy invasions, harassment, humiliation, stigma, harm to their health, and even violence,” the complaint reads.

By refusing to allow transgender people to change their birth certificates, the state of Ohio is “forcing transgender people to ‘out’ themselves every time they need to present the document, which exposes them to a range of unfair and discriminatory treatment, from denial of employment, to verbal harassment, to physical violence,”Gabriel Arkles, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project, said in a statement.

“This policy is not only archaic and out-of-step with the rest of America but also dangerous. Forcing transgender Ohioans to go through life with inaccurate birth certificates, a basic form of identification, unnecessarily exposes them to discrimination, harassment, and violence. It also denies them their very identity,” Lambda Legal Law Fellow Kara Ingelhart said in a statement. “In fact, government officials in Ohio know this, given that they allow transgender people to change the gender on their drivers’ licenses and state identification cards.”

Stacie Ray, one of the plaintiffs in the case, recounts how she was threatened with physical harm by a colleague after he found out she was transgender by reading her birth certificate.

“I deserve to have documents that reflect who I am and don’t put me in harm’s way — the same as anyone would want for themselves and their loved ones,” Ray said in a statement.

“Ohio’s refusal to correct my birth certificate causes me problems not only in the U.S., but across the globe,” plaintiff Basil Argento said in a statement. “After enormous difficulty — that I wouldn’t have had if my birth certificate showed my correct gender — I was finally able to obtain dual citizenship in Italy, my family’s homeland, but I am still fighting to get an Italian passport.”

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

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