( San Juan, PR, April 6, 2017 ) Lambda Legal today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four transgender Puerto Ricans and the LGBT rights organization Puerto Rico Para Tod@s to compel the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to allow transgender individuals to correct the gender marker on their birth certificates.
"Puerto Rico categorically prohibits changes to the gender marker on birth certificates, even for those whose birth certificate does not match who they are. This policy has no rational justification in law or practice," Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said. "In fact, government officials in Puerto Rico know this, as they, appropriately, allow transgender individuals to correct the gender marker on their drivers' licenses. Puerto Rico's birth certificate policy is at odds with the federal government's policies, with 46 out of the 50 states in the United States and the District of Columbia, and with common sense."
Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico on behalf of three transgender women Daniela Arroyo Gonzalez, Joanna Cifredo and Victoria Rodriguez Roldan and one transgender man, J.G., identified only by his initials, as well as Puerto Rico Para Tod@s. The lawsuit argues that denying transgender Puerto Ricans the ability to obtain accurate birth certificates violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the lawsuit argues that forcing transgender Puerto Ricans through their birth certificates to identify with a gender that is not who they are violates their right to free speech under the First Amendment.
"Forcing transgender Puerto Ricans to go through life with inaccurate birth certificates, a basic form of identification, unnecessarily exposes them to discrimination, harassment and violence. This policy is wrong, harmful and illegal." Gonzalez-Pagan said. "It compels transgender Puerto Ricans to out themselves at work and in public, compromises their mental health by preventing them from living fully and completely as who they are, and, as the epidemic of violence particularly targeting transgender women of color demonstrates, exposes them to significant harm."
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, almost one-third of transgender individuals who showed an identity document with a name or gender marker that conflicted with their perceived gender were harassed, denied benefits or services, discriminated against or assaulted. Transgender individuals also are disproportionately targeted for hate crimes. And, the recent efforts by states like North Carolina and others to restrict access to single-sex restrooms and locker rooms underscores the importance of accurate identity documents, especially birth certificates.
"We plan to bring our experience litigating LGBTQ discrimination issues in other jurisdictions to bear here as we seek to enforce our clients' important, basic rights in this case," said Ropes & Gray partner Dan O'Connor. Ropes & Gray, a global law firm, has been recognized for its work assisting LGBTQ individuals with legal guidance and, a Ropes & Gray partner, Doug Hallward-Driemeier argued the landmark marriage equality case Obergefell v. Hodges before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015.
"I'm a girl, I've known since I was three years old that I'm a girl," said Daniela Arroyo Gonzalez, an 18-year-old high school senior. "I've had to put up with a lot since I decided to live as my true self harassment, discrimination and separate and unequal treatment. That's wrong and I hope with this lawsuit we can persuade Puerto Rico to do the right thing for me and for all transgender Puerto Ricans."
The lawsuit is Arroyo et al. v. Rossello-Nevares et al. You can read the complaint here: www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/pr_bc_20170406_complaint .
Read about birth certificate policies across the United States here: www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/article/trans-changing-birth-certificate-sex-designations .
Handling the case on behalf of Lambda Legal are: Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Demoya Gordon, Dru Levasseur and Kara Ingelhart. They are joined by pro-bono co-counsel Celina Romany-Siaca of San Juan, PR, and Richard Batchelder, Daniel O'Connor, Aliki Sofis, David Soutter, Sara Jones and Bonnie Doyle of Ropes & Gray LLP.