A transgender Latino man who was granted asylum in the United States last year from Mexico is suing Indiana state officials, including Governor Mike Pence, over his right to change his name without being a citizen.
The 31-year-old man, identified in the lawsuit as John Doe (formerly Jane Doe), is suing over an Indiana law that requires anyone petitioning to change their name to provide proof of citizenship. Represented by the Transgender Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), he's alleging that the law violates his constitutional rights to equal protection and freedom of speech:
"I think that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect no matter who they are," Doe told Fusion (preferring to be referred to as John Doe, as in the lawsuit, out of safety concerns). "I have suffered so much because my ID doesn’t match who I am. I think it’s time for the laws to change not just for me but for other people who might be going through this."
Doe, regardless of his immigration status, is covered by the same Fourteenth Amendment protections as citizens: that reading of the constitution has been affirmed by several court rulings and the wording of the fourteenth amendment itself, which extends due process and equal protections to all "persons" in the United States regardless of their citizenship status. The relevant passage reads, "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
According to the Transgender Law Center, Doe moved to the U.S. from Mexico when he was six years old, and came out as transgender in 2010. He's identified as male on his state identification and all other official documents. But under Indiana law, he still hasn't been able to change his legal name. And that, he alleges, has meant that he "faces discrimination and harassment regularly" and is distressed to the point that he feels anxious about even leaving his house.
The suit gives specific examples of times Doe has allegedly been discriminated against because his legal name doesn't match his gender, including a visit to an emergency room in 2013 during which he says nurses were first confused by his name and laughed at him while he was seeking medical treatment:
"I felt really ashamed, and sad and mad about it, but I couldn't do nothing," he told Fusion of the incident. "Things like going to the doctor are scary for me. If I want to go somewhere where I have to show my ID I get really worried and stressed about how I’m going to explain it. I shouldn’t have to go through all that. Are they gonna believe who I am or am I going to face harassment? Or are they going to laugh at me? I’m scared of what they’re going to do, what reactions are going to happen."
Matthew Barragan, an attorney with MALDEF, said the organization undertook a study of change of name requirements and found that Indiana is the only state that bars non-citizens from changing their legal names.
"The law uniquely impacts trans people but it was an attack on all immigrants, legal permanent residents, people who are not US citizens but who are legally able to work in the country are unable to change their names," Barragan told Fusion. "Most states don’t require this at all."
North Dakota is the only other state that has a similar law, according to Barragan, but the North Dakota law allows permanent residents as well as citizens to change their names.
The lawsuit names Indiana Attorney-General Greg Zoeller, Indiana Governor and Republican Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence, and Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge as defendants.
Monica Hernandez, Communications Director for Zoeller, responded to Fusion's request for comment with a statement saying that in a civil lawsuit the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, and that the Attorney General "will review the plaintiff’s lawyer’s complaint and file a response in court at the appropriate time."
A spokesperson for Pence said the governor's office does not comment on pending litigation, and Eldridge did not immediately respond to a request for comment.