Three transgender women are challenging a Pennsylvania state law that will not allow them to legally change their names.
Three transgender women in Pennsylvania are challenging a state law that has been in place for twenty years preventing individuals who have committed a felony from changing their names. The law was meant to ward against attempts to commit fraud. The state’s Commonwealth Court will hear oral arguments in the lawsuit brought by plaintiffs who live as women but are unable to change their masculine first names.
Pennsylvania law requires anyone convicted of a felony to wait at least two years after completion of their sentence to apply for a name change, and those convicted of certain more serious felonies are permanently barred from changing their names.
“People have a fundamental right to control their own names, and that can’t be overridden by a legal presumption that felons are engaging in fraud when they seek a name change,” the women’s attorneys wrote in a filing. “Those who may not change their names are forced “to speak and write an undesired name in order to travel, vote, pay taxes or simply conduct their daily lives.”
The attorneys added, “The Pennsylvania Constitution does not allow for a system under which a person has no opportunity to show that they are seeking a name change for a non-fraudulent purpose, such as to reflect a gender transition.”
The state attorney general’s office, representing the defendants, said the law “was meant to enhance public safety and welfare and argued there is no fundamental right to a name change in the state constitution.”
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a statement that his “office has responsibility to defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania laws,” adding, “despite my personal opinion. I understand that being required to live with a name that doesn’t represent who you really are creates a myriad of hardships.”
In a filing seeking dismissal, the attorney general’s office argued “the restrictions are rationally related to the valid concern that people with serious felony convictions may seek to assume a new identity in order to avoid detection and escape the consequences of their convictions.”
The women’s lawsuit is only meant to overturn the section of law that prevents felons from submitting in court a petition stating their name change is not related to fraud.
Patrick Yingling said, “If they can’t get their name changed, they need to show an identification card that presents an undesired name that doesn’t match their gender identity or appearance. In effect, they need to ‘out’ themselves as transgender on a regular basis, sometimes in situations in which they do not feel comfortable doing so.”
A 2015 survey of nearly 1,200 transgender residents of Pennsylvania, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, found that 30% of respondents who had shown an ID with a name or gender that did not match they way they present themselves. “This stuff shouldn’t have to come up all the time for these folks,” said Mara Keisling, the center’s executive director.
The law is being challenged by three convicte felons, including Chauntey Mo’Nique Porter, who has a 2008 aggravated assault conviction, Alonda Talley, who was convicted in 2009 of aggravated assault and Priscylla Renee Von Noaker, who was in prison for a decade on a rape conviction.