Non-citizen transgender man sues state to change name

Olivia Covington
October 5, 2016
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

He was trying to obtain a rental vehicle when he heard the question he hates most — “Can I see your I.D.?”

John Doe, a 31-year-old Mexican man with asylum in Indiana, handed his legal identification to the sales representative and watched the familiar look of confusion come across the salesman’s face. The name on the I.D. said Jane, an understandably confusing fact considering Doe both looks like and identifies himself as a man.

“Immigration messed my papers up,” Doe said in response to the salesman’s quizzical looks — an answer that, this time, was satisfactory.

But that’s not the truth. He gave that answer only to avoid revealing one of the most intimate details about his life — that he is biologically a woman, but has chosen to live as a transgender man.

Usually, Doe does not have to reveal his transgender status to anyone he does not feel comfortable with, but the name listed on his legal I.D. can force the subject to come up. Because of an Indiana law that prohibits non-citizens from legally changing their names, John Doe must continue to identify as Jane on all documents until he becomes a naturalized citizen.

That law, found in Indiana Code 34-28-2-2.5, is one of the last remaining factors Doe says is prohibiting him from living fully within his gender identity as a man, so he is challenging its constitutionality in John Doe, formerly known as Jane Doe, v. Pence, et al., 1:16-cv-2431.

In the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Doe is suing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge in their official capacities for a law he says violates his rights to free speech, equal protection and due process.

Doe’s trouble with the law first came up in late 2013, when he contacted the government to ask what documentation he would need to provide to legally change his name on his official paperwork and identification. He was told that, among other things, he would have to provide proof of his U.S. citizenship.

Although he has been living in Indiana since 1990, was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2015 and applied for permanent U.S. residency last month, it will still be at least another five years before Doe is a naturalized citizen.

In the meantime, the transgender man said he lives in constant stress and fear of someone finding out that he is a biological woman living as a man. That very fear is why he sought asylum in the U.S. as a way of escaping persecution in Mexico.

His concerns are exacerbated by the fact that his wife’s family does not know he is transgender, which prompted him to file a motion to proceed anonymously throughout the case.

barragan-matthew-mug.jpg Barragan

Both Doe and Matthew Barragan, a staff attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Los Angeles who is acting as pro hac vice counsel for Doe, said House Enrolled Act 1047 — which eventually became the portion of Indiana Code Doe is now challenging — was passed in 2010 as a way of limiting the ability of immigrants to change their names once they entered the United States.

smith-milo-mug.jpg Smith

But Milo Smith, R-Columbus, a co-author of HEA 1047, said the conversations about the bill in 2010 were about much more than immigration.

HEA 1047 was designed as a way of curbing voter fraud, Smith said. The idea was to help ensure that one person could not register to vote as two different people, so the citizenship requirement, as well as other provisions such as proof of date of birth and a list of all other names previously used, were included as extra precautions.

baird-barbara-mug.jpg Baird

But in the official court filings, Barbara Baird of the Law Office of Barbara Baird in Indianapolis, Doe’s local counsel, wrote of multiple occasions when Doe was forced to reveal his transgender status against his will because of the 2010 law.

When Doe stumbled across MALDEF and the Transgender Law Center, which is also acting as pro hac vice counsel in the suit, in 2014, he was finally given the support he needed to make his case in court, Baird said.

Constitutional questions

There’s little precedent for a case like this, Baird and Barragan said, but Doe’s counsel still say they have a solid case that will point to obvious constitutional violations.

Barragan said the law violates the First Amendment right to freedom of speech by forcing non-citizen transgender people to legally identify as a name that they would not otherwise voluntarily use.

transgender-factbox.gifThe law also violates two due process rights under the 14th Amendment, Barragan said — the right to equal protection under the law and the right to autonomy in fundamental decisions. Requiring transgender people to share their transgender status forces them to divulge medical and other intimate details that other citizens are not forced to share, which violates the 14th Amendment, he said.

But Smith said laws such as HEA 1047 are written to protect natural-born or naturalized citizens, not non-citizens.

Doe bristled at that argument, saying his citizenship status shouldn’t affect his rights as a human being.

“It’s kind of messed up how the U.S. gave me asylum to protect myself from Mexico, but I can’t even change my name to have the same protection here,” Doe said.

Similarly, Baird said the Constitution was written to protect “all persons,” not just citizens.

National conversations

Aside from the question of constitutional rights, Doe’s suit deals with two of the most controversial issues in modern politics — immigration and transgender rights — and the implications of that national conversation have already begun to manifest themselves in Doe’s case.

In response to Doe’s filing, Barragan said he has heard from refugees who have called to thank him for taking on a case that could also affect their lives. Many of those refugees’ names were misspelled on official U.S. documents because of clerical errors, Barragan said, but under Indiana law they cannot have those errors legally fixed until they become naturalized citizens.

Additionally, Barragan said he often fields questions from people wanting to know if Pence is named as a defendant in the suit only because he is the 2016 Republican vice presidential candidate. Pence was not yet in office when the law was enacted in 2010, so he is being sued in his current official capacity as Indiana governor, Barragan said.

Kara Brooks, spokeswoman for Pence, said the governor’s office does not comment on pending litigation.

Eldridge also declined to publicly comment on the suit, saying in a statement that her office was determining how to best respond considering the suit deals with state law, not local policies that would fall under her jurisdiction.

Immediately after the filing, Zoeller also released a statement through his office that said he would respond to Doe’s complaint at the appropriate time. The attorney general also pointed out the burden of proof would be on Doe, not the state.

Baird said the court had partially approved Doe’s motion to proceed anonymously in late September, so he and his counsel are waiting to learn if the state will file a challenge to that motion.•


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

  2. Unlike the federal judge who refused to protect me, the Virginia State Bar gave me a hearing. After the hearing, the Virginia State Bar refused to discipline me. VSB said that attacking me with the court ADA coordinator had, " all the grace and charm of a drive-by shooting." One does wonder why the VSB was able to have a hearing and come to that conclusion, but the federal judge in Indiana slammed the door of the courthouse in my face.

  3. I agree. My husband has almost the exact same situation. Age states and all.

  4. Thanks Jim. We surprised ourselves with the first album, so we did a second one. We are releasing it 6/30/17 at the HiFi. The reviews so far are amazing! Skope Mag: It’s Just Craig offers a warm intimacy with the tender folk of “Dark Corners”. Rather lovely in execution, It’s Just Craig opts for a full, rich sound. Quite ornate instrumentally, the songs unfurl with such grace and style. Everything about the album feels real and fully lived. By far the highlight of the album are the soft smooth reassuring vocals whose highly articulate lyrics have a dreamy quality to them. Stories emerge out of these small snapshots of reflective moments.... A wide variety of styles are utilized, with folk anchoring it but allowing for chamber pop, soundtrack work, and found electronics filtering their way into the mix. Without a word, It’s Just Craig sets the tone of the album with the warble of “Intro”. From there things get truly started with the hush of “Go”. Building up into a great structure, “Go” has a kindness to it. Organs glisten in the distance on the fragile textures of “Alone” whose light melody adds to the song’s gorgeousness. A wonderful bloom of color defines the spaciousness of “Captain”. Infectious grooves take hold on the otherworldly origins of “Goodnight” with precise drum work giving the song a jazzy feeling. Hazy to its very core is the tragedy of “Leaving Now”. By far the highlight of the album comes with the closing impassioned “Thirty-Nine” where many layers of sound work together possessing a poetic quality.

  5. Andrew, if what you report is true, then it certainly is newsworthy. If what you report is false, then it certainly is newsworthy. Any journalists reading along??? And that same Coordinator blew me up real good as well, even destroying evidence to get the ordered wetwork done. There is a story here, if any have the moxie to go for it. Search ADA here for just some of my experiences with the court's junk yard dog. Yep, drive by shootings. The lawyers of the Old Dominion got that right. Career executions lacking any real semblance of due process. It is the ISC way ... under the bad shepard's leadership ... and a compliant, silent, boot-licking fifth estate.