A transgender man, identified in court documents only as John Doe, is challenging an Indiana state law requiring him to produce proof of citizenship in order to obtain a name change.
The suit, filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis claims the law
discriminates against him because of his noncitizen status and violates his freedom of speech and privacy to protect his gender identity.
It is embarrassing and puts me in danger of violence and discrimination.
Doe is a 31-year-old legal Indiana resident.
The man was born in Mexico, and his family moved to Indiana when he was 6. In 2015, the lawsuit said, the U.S. granted him asylum because of the risk that he would face persecution in Mexico because he is transgender.
Before that, in 2013, he had received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, which allows children who entered the country illegally to stay and receive a work permit.
Having his female birth name on his state identification outs him as transgender and has caused issues when the man was pulled over by a police officer, when he sought treatment at a hospital and when he ordered a drink at a restaurant, the lawsuit said.
The police officer didn't understand why a man had a female name, the man said: "He said I was playing games, and I would be arrested unless I showed him my real ID."
On another occasion, Doe went to the emergency room because of pain and immobility in his neck and shoulder. The staff were confused by his ID, then ridiculed him when they learned he was transgender. A group of five nurses gathered around to laugh at him.
Another time, Doe was asked to show his ID at a restaurant where he was attending a family birthday celebration. The waiter laughed at his female name, and when Doe questioned why his name was important when it was simply his age that mattered, the waiter insisted, “This is my restaurant, and I am worried about it!”
He said the female birth name also forced him to lose a job opportunity when he had to explain he was transgender.
He has lived as a man throughout his adult life, he said, coming out to friends and family in 2012. His gender is recognized as male on all official U.S. documents, the lawsuit said, including his Indiana state identification and immigration documents.
Doe has legal assistance from the Transgender Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).
Besides Pence, the suit names Indiana AG Greg Zoeller and Marion County Court Clerk Myla Eldridge as defendants.
The state shouldn't have to force anyone to out themselves as transgender, at constant risk of their own safety, just because they aren't citizens.
--Isa Noyola, Transgender Law Center
MALDEF attorneys have not discovered other states that require citizenship to obtain a name change.
It's really not a case about transgender rights. It's a case about the rights of legal aliens where, in this case, the impact falls particularly hard and in a particularly dramatic way on a transgender person.
--Steve Sanders, an associate professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law
The lawsuit noted that the citizenship requirement in Indiana law, passed in 2010, "was first enacted as part of a measure targeting identity theft and with the specific purpose of making it 'more difficult for illegal immigrants to create new identities.'"
Because the man is a legal immigrant, Sanders said, the state would be held to the highest level of scrutiny to prove why it needs to treat him differently from a U.S. citizen.
It does put you in sort of an odd situation to have your gender legally changed but still be forced to live under a name that doesn't fit your gender.
Doe has a wife who is an American citizen and a son.
He intends to apply for permanent residency this month, the lawsuit said, and would need to wait at least three years before applying for naturalization.