Transgender Mexican citizen sues Indiana to change name to match gender identity

September 14, 2016

A transgender Mexican man with asylum in the United States is suing the state of Indiana for a law that prohibits him from legally changing his name to match his gender identity as a man.

The plaintiff, John Doe, formerly and legally known as Jane Doe, filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana Tuesday over a state law that bars him from legally changing his name from “Jane” to “John” because he is not a naturalized U.S. citizen. Doe has also filed a motion to move through the legal proceedings anonymously.

Doe, 31, who was born female but now identifies as a male, moved from Mexico to Indiana with his family in 1990 and has lived here ever since.  He told his family in 2012 that he was transgender and identified as a man, and subsequently began using the name John.

Although Doe states in court documents that his family accepts him as a man, the United States granted him asylum from Mexico in August 2015 because he would be persecuted for being transgender in his native country. Doe’s court filing says he will apply for permanent U.S. residency this month, but will have to wait at least six years before becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Doe wrote in the court filing that he is recognized as male on all official U.S. documents, including his Indiana I.D. and his immigration documents, which both show the gender marker “M.” However, his name is still listed as Jane on those documents, a fact that he wants to change but cannot do so unless he legally changes his name from Jane to John.  Under Indiana House Bill 1047, which was passed and added to the state code in 2010, a person must prove that they are a legal U.S. citizen when seeking a legal name change.

Doe alleges that the language in that portion of the Indiana Code — which prohibits him from legally changing his name for at least six years while his naturalization is pending — violates his First Amendment right to free speech and his 14th Amendment due process rights to liberty and privacy with respect to personal information. Being forced to legally use a traditionally female name has resulted in heightened symptoms of anxiety and gender dysphoria, he said.

“Mr. Does’ inability to change his legal name and update his I.D. has caused him serious emotional distress and difficulty in his day-to-day activities every time he is required to present his government-issued I.D.,” Doe’s counsel wrote in Tuesday’s filing.  

According to court documents, Doe was aware that he did not feel like a girl at a young age, but was not diagnosed with gender dysphoria until 2010. With the help of a licensed mental health clinician, the plaintiff says he has been following a treatment plan for his condition, including a gender-affirming surgery. Part of the treatment also includes living in accordance with his gender identity in all respects, including the use of a male name and pronouns.

The law that prohibits Doe from legally changing his name from Jane to John has inhibited his ability to freely and fully live in accordance with his gender identity, he said.

In 2011, Doe was pulled over for a traffic violation and was asked to provide his state-issued I.D. When the officer saw that Doe’s name was listed as Jane, he did not believe the I.D. belonged to Doe and threatened to take him to jail.  

Doe then produced a letter from his therapist explaining his transgender status, and although the officer seemed to believe him, the plaintiff wrote that the officer said Doe’s “weird situation” was annoying. Doe did not have a valid driver’s license at that time, so he called his now-wife to pick him up. When she arrived, Doe said the officer told her, “You can take ‘I-don’t-know-what-it-is’ with you.”

In another incident in 2013, Doe said he went to the emergency room and was asked to show his I.D. When he did so, Doe wrote that the nurses were initially confused, then later began to ridicule him when they realized he was a transgender man.

Also in 2013, Doe was asked to show his I.D. when he ordered a drink at a family celebration at a restaurant. According to the court documents, the waiter laughed and asked why his name was listed as Jane, putting the celebration on hold while his family and friends tried to convince the waiter that the I.D. was actually his.

These situations, and others, have caused Doe “significant psychological distress, anxiety, and dysphoria,” his counsel wrote. Further, they wrote that although Doe has never been subject to a physical attack because of his transgender status, he lives in constant fear of physical danger.

Unless he is asked for his I.D., which lists his name as Jane, Doe said he is generally not recognized as transgender. Thus, he alleges that the Indiana law requiring U.S. citizenship for a legal name change is one of the last remaining things that prohibit him from living fully in his gender identity.

Further, Doe wrote that being forced to legally identify as Jane violates his equal protection right, his right to liberty regarding personal decision and his right to privacy regarding personal decisions under the 14th Amendment, as well as his rights to express his name and gender in accordance with his gender identity as free speech under the First Amendment.

His suit seeks declaratory judgment of the violation of his Constitutional rights, as well as an injunction permanently barring enforcement of the Indiana law preventing non-citizens from legally changing their names.

In a statement through his office, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who is named as a defendant in the case along with Gov. Mike Pence and Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge, said he plans to file a response to Doe’s complaint. He also noted that the burden of proof in this case would be on Doe, not the state.

“As state government’s lawyer, the Attorney General’s office is obligated to represent state government officials and agencies and defend the statutes the legislature has passed,” Monica Hernandez Billman, spokeswoman for Zoeller, said.

The case is John Doe, formerly known as Jane Doe v. Michael Pence, et al., 1:16-cv-02431.


Recent Articles by Olivia Covington