A Court of Appeals of Indiana has taken the final step in the process and certified a decision that a state name-change law does not require a petitioner to be a U.S. citizen to change their name. The ruling, issued last week, is now the guiding law in the state of Indiana, and when non-citizens and transgender people face challenges to changing their name, they can cite this case.

The case involves a lawsuit brought by Indiana Legal Services, Inc (ILSI), MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), the Law Office of Barbara J. Baird, and the Transgender Law Center (TLC) on behalf of two transgender immigrant clients who had been seeking legal name changes.

The Court of Appeals decision followed a trial court decision that held that the two petitioners, both transgender men, were seeking legal name changes in “good faith and not for fraudulent or unlawful purposes.” The trial court incorrectly believed that it could not grant the petitions because of the statutory language in the name-change law that appeared to require U.S. citizenship. The appellate court sent it back to the trial court with instructions to grant the name-change petitions because the Court of Appeals recognized that proof of U.S. citizenship is not required for someone to change their name.

“Throughout my life when forced to show an ID – including when attempting to access healthcare and employment – I faced humiliation, harassment, and even violence because of my gender identity and citizenship status. This victory is a victory for me, but also for trans people and non-citizens in Indiana who will no longer have to experience these harms. We have made a real change that will have a positive impact on many lives and improve the lives of so many in our state,”  said John Doe, who is represented by Baird, MALDEF and the Transgender Law Center and who has used a pseudonym to protect his privacy.

“Though the Appellate Court’s decision is an application of long-standing appellate precedent, it is important because it ensures that all Hoosiers, regardless gender identity or immigration status, can access the courts to protect their safety and affirm their dignity.” said Megan Stuart, Director of the LGBT Law Project at Indiana Legal Services.

“Choosing your own name is a quintessential right of every human being; denying that right on the basis of citizenship is not only unconstitutional and inconsistent with our national values, but threatens the safety of transgender immigrants,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “This appellate court certification means that the state of Indiana will no longer deny non-citizens a legal change of name, restoring a most basic human right to all who live in Indiana.”

“We celebrate the fact that people in Indiana, regardless of their citizenship status or gender identity, now have the freedom to go about their daily lives without fear of harassment, violence, and discrimination every time they’re asked to present an ID,” said Shawn Meerkamper, Senior Staff Attorney at TLC. “All people should have access to name changes regardless of where they live, and this decision should be a guiding example to other states.”

Read the ruling here: https://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/05182001rra.pdf

Indiana Legal Services, Inc., is the largest provider of free civil legal assistance to low-income people in Indiana. ILS helps clients who are faced with legal problems that harm their ability to have such basics as food, shelter, income, medical care, or personal safety. The nonprofit organization handles cases involving domestic violence, housing, consumer law, access to health care, LGBTQ+ discrimination, and access to government benefits. It does not handle criminal matters. ILS was established in 1966, and today serves clients in all 92 Indiana counties. The mission of ILS is “to use the law to fight poverty, empower clients, and improve access to justice.”

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization.  Often described as the “law firm of the Latino community,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.

Transgender Law Center (TLC) is the largest national trans-led organization advocating for a world in which all people are free to define themselves and their futures. Grounded in legal expertise and committed to racial justice, TLC employs a variety of community-driven strategies to keep transgender and gender nonconforming people alive, thriving, and fighting for liberation.  www.transgenderlawcenter.org

Barbara Baird of the Law Office of Barbara J. Baird has focused her practice on issues of importance to the LGBTQ community in Indiana for more than 25 years, including protection of second parent and same sex adoption, participation in the successful legal challenge to Indiana’s ban on same sex marriage, and assisting transgender clients with correcting their identity documents.