December 5, 2014 – Transgender Law Center celebrated the decision issued yesterday by the Indiana Court of Appeals recognizing the legal change of gender of a transgender man. The decision reversed a lower court ruling that had denied the request because no Indiana statute addresses courts’ authority to issue such orders. Transgender Law Center represented the man, known in court filings only as “John Doe,” along with the pro bono assistance of the law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels.
“I’m so relieved,” said Doe. “My birth certificate will finally show who I really am. Privacy is very important to me, and having a birth certificate that listed my sex as female was kind of scary – it could have outed me at any time and I never knew when someone might discriminate against me, or even try to hurt me, if they found out I’m transgender. I’m really grateful to Transgender Law Center for taking on my case.”
Transgender Law Center Legal Director Ilona Turner added, “We’re thrilled we were able to win this victory for our client, which will also benefit transgender people throughout Indiana as well as across the country. This decision confirms the common-sense principle that courts everywhere have the authority to issue orders recognizing a person’s legal gender. That’s simply part of what courts do, regardless of whether a particular statute gives them that specific authority.”
Doe, a 25-year old African American man, was assigned the sex of female at birth, but has long identified and lived as a man. He successfully changed several of his identification documents to reflect his male gender, but when he attempted to change the gender marker on his Indiana birth certificate in 2012, the state Department of Health informed him that he would need to obtain a court order recognizing his change of gender before they would update the gender marker on his birth certificate. He filed a petition in the state trial court seeking an order recognizing his male gender, submitting extensive evidence in support of the petition. The trial court, however, denied the petition, concluding that it did not have authority under state law to issue such an order.
The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed. The decision issued today by a unanimous three-judge panel noted that “the vast majority of states, including Indiana” have long allowed legal gender changes. While Indiana does not have a specific statute permitting changes of gender on birth certificates, the court held that under the Indiana statute that provides “general authority for the amendment of birth certificates,” as well as the “inherent equity power” of courts, the trial court did have authority to grant the order.
The appeals court further noted that a trial court’s “ultimate focus” in considering such an order “should be on whether the petition is made in good faith and not for a fraudulent or unlawful purpose”—not on whether the person has had any particular type of medical treatment, such as surgery. The Court of Appeals instructed the trial court to issue an order directing the state health department to amend Doe’s birth certificate “to reflect his male gender.”