A group of trans women in the US have filed lawsuits against state laws which restrict them from officially changing their names.
Eight of the women filing challenges are in Illinois, and one is in Wisconsin.
The women have said that they have faced discrimination and harassment because their IDs carry male names.
Under current state laws, the women are unable to change their names due to their past criminal convictions.
Depending on their criminal history, those wishing to change their names in Illinois must wait up to 10 years after the completion of their sentence, or if charged with crimes such as identity fraud or some sexual offenses, they may never be allowed to change their name. The latter are only allowed to do so if they pardoned for their crime.
In Wisconsin, registered sex offenders are completely prohibited from changing their names. They face up to six years in prison if they do so.
The plaintiffs seek to have the laws declared unconstitutional and to stop them from being enforced.
‘The impact on their lives is severe’
The trans women list a number of occasions they have encountered difficulties in their daily lives because they have not been allowed to change their names.
In their lawsuits, cite instances such as failing to receive food stamps because their chosen name is not on their ID. They also say they have been ridiculed in public places when showing their identification.
‘The impact on their lives is severe. This is an issue of equality and equal participation in society,’ said Lark Mulligan, an attorney with the Transformative Justice Law Project, who filed the Illinois lawsuit.
‘There really is no more fundamental means of expressing ourselves than choosing a name,’ said Mulligan, who is also a trans woman.
‘There’s hundreds of times we have to present our IDs throughout the course of a week. Every time, they’re forced to utter or respond to a name that doesn’t reflect their gender identity.’
As the Wisconsin plaintiff lawsuit states that being unable to change her name ’causes confusion and raises questions whenever Plaintiff applies for a job, interacts with medical professionals, or seeks to manage her personal finances’.
As she is a registered sex offender from a conviction in 1992, she is restricted from legally change her name.
‘This is something we face on a daily basis’
One of the Illinois plaintiffs is 30-year-old, Eisha Love. She says that allowing her to legally change her name would make a huge impact on her life.
Speaking to the Chicago Tribune, Love says she has faced discrimination and often feels unsafe because her ID carries a male name. ‘As trans women, this is something we face on a daily basis,’ says Love.
She is restricted from legally changing her name because of a 2015 conviction for aggravated battery. This means she will not be able to change her name until 2026.
‘This is going to complete my whole life,’ Love says about the lawsuit. ‘I can be Eisha Love and feel confident in my skin. I feel like I can’t be Eisha Love until I can be her legally.’
Mixed records on trans rights
Illinois and Wisconsin have mixed records on trans rights, though both have seen some progress.
In August last year, Wisconsin’s group health board approved coverage for trans state employees seeking gender confirmation surgery. The health coverage took effect in January.
In Illinois, trans woman prisoner was allowed to transfer to a female prison following a successful lawsuit against the prison system.
The prisoner claimed she had been sexually abused in male prisons. As a result of her case, the judge ruled that all Illinois prison officials must undergo training on transgender issues.
However, a bill presented to the Illinois legislature last month could punish doctors for transition-related medical care to trans youths.
If the Youth Health Prevention Act is passed, doctors in violation of the law could risk losing their license.