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Trans activists file federal name-change lawsuits
by Matt Simonette
2019-05-01

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Eight transgender Illinoisans filed a lawsuit on May 1 against Cook County officials, maintaining that name-change laws pertaining to convicted felons are inherently biased against transgender persons.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court's Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division by Chicagoans Reyna Ortiz, Keisha Allen, Amari Garza, Heaven Edwards, Eisha Love, Shamika Clay, Savannah Frazier and Kamora Lovelace. Defendants are Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans and Circuit Court of Cook County Presiding Judge for County Division Sharon Sullivan, in their official capacities.

The Illinois Name Change Statute dictates that persons convicted of certain felonies must wait 10 years after the completion and discharge of their sentence before petitioning for a legal name change. Persons convicted of certain felonies—among them sexual offenses and identity theft—are prohibited from ever petitioning for such a change.

The plaintiffs maintain that such rules are especially onerous for transgender individuals, who frequently face difficulties when having to present their identification. As such, seemingly ordinary day-to-day business, such as traveling, banking or accessing healthcare, can be fraught with hassle.

Ortiz, who is now a social worker, pled guilty to an identity theft charge in 2003, preventing her from ever legally changing the name she was given at birth. The suit states that, "The Illinois Name Change Statute forces Reyna to speak and respond to a name that subjects her to discrimination every time she is required to present her government-issued identification in a public setting."

Ortiz, who has had no convictions since the 2003 episode, said at the May 1 announcement of the suit that, "We would like to maneuver through this society with minimal complications."

"This is something that impacts us that needs to have action," added Love.

Lark Mulligan of Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois, who is among the plaintiffs' attorneys, called the Illinois Name Change Statute "the most punitive and restrictive" name-change law in the United States.

"It impacts your life in so many ways," said Ortiz.

A similar federal lawsuit was also filed May 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of of Wisconsin Milwaukee Division. In that litigation, plaintiff Karen Krebs, a transgender Wisconsin resident, maintains that she has been similarly harmed by a Wisconsin statute that prohibits sex offenders from legally changing their name.

"All I want is the same rights as anyone else," said Krebs, who appeared with the Illinois plaintiffs on May 1. The defendant in her litigation is Kenosha County ( Wisconsin ) District Attorney Michael Gravely.


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