Metro Weekly

Court orders Puerto Rico to issue accurate birth certificates to transgender residents

Crder comes in response to a first-of-its-kind federal lawsuit

Victoria Rodríguez Roldán and Daniela Arroyo González – Photo: Lambda Legal.

A federal court has struck down a policy that prohibits transgender people born in Puerto Rico from amending the gender marker on their birth certificates. The court also issued an order requiring officials to allow those corrections.

The order comes in response to a first-of-its-kind federal lawsuit brought against the commonwealth challenging its categorical ban prohibiting people from correcting gender markers on birth certificates, even in the face of evidence that a person has undergone a gender transition.

“This is a tremendous victory for our clients and all transgender people born in Puerto Rico,” Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “The Puerto Rican government must now allow transgender Puerto Ricans to change the gender markers on their birth certificates so that they accurately reflect and affirm their identities.

“The Commonwealth’s categorical ban was not only discriminatory; it also was a relic from the past reflecting archaic views about who we are as a people and a society,” Gonzalez-Pagan added. “A birth certificate is an essential identity document. It is vital for identity documents to accurately reflect who we are. We are pleased that the court recognized that the government cannot interfere with transgender people’s ability to live as their authentic selves and that attempts to do so are unconstitutional.”

In granting Lambda Legal’s motion for summary judgment, the court found the birth certificate policy unconstitutional because “the forced disclosure of plaintiffs’ transgender status violates their fundamental right to informational privacy.” The court will also issue a separate order in which it will outline its factual findings, as well as the method or relief required to correct the gender markers on people’s birth certificates to reflect their gender identity without revealing their transgender status.

The lawsuit was initially brought by Lambda Legal on behalf of two transgender women, Daniela Arroyo González and Victoria Rodríguez Roldán, one transgender man, J.G., and Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a transgender organization. The lawsuit argued that the island’s policy barring corrections on birth certificates violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the right to free speech, by forcing transgender individuals to identify with a gender that is not who they are.

Similar lawsuits challenging categorical bans on correcting gender markers have previously been brought in Idaho and Ohio.

“Today, transgender Puerto Ricans are closer to the equal protection under the law that is promised in the Constitution,” Pedro Julio Serrano, the founder and president of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, said in a statement. “We are grateful for the transgender plaintiffs in this case for their courage and we are proud to have partnered, once again, with Lambda Legal in advancing equal rights for LGBT Puerto Ricans. We must not rest until full equality is achieved for all LGBT people in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.”

According to the 2015 U.S Transgender Survey, almost one-third of transgender individuals who were forced to show an identity document with a name or gender marker contrary to their perceived gender were harassed, denied benefits or services, discriminated against, or even assaulted. That’s why providing accurate birth certificates and identity documents is a way to ensure transgender people’s safety and protect them from being the targets of bias-motivated crimes.

“It is a huge relief to finally have an accurate birth certificate that is a true reflection of who I am,” Daniela Arroyo-González said in a statement praising the court’s decision and how it would benefit her. “It makes me feel safer and like my country finally recognizes me, respects me, and protects my identity as a woman. As of today, trans people in Puerto Rico are more free. This is the right decision.”

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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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