Discriminatory Law Prohibits Non-Citizens from Obtaining a Change of Legal Name

September 13, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - A transgender man prohibited from changing his legal name because of his immigration classification is suing Indiana state officials, including Governor Mike Pence.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Transgender Law Center on behalf of a 31-year-old Indiana resident, alleges that a 2010 state law requiring proof of citizenship to obtain a change of legal name is unconstitutional.

"I want to use a name that is in line with my true identity," said the plaintiff, who was granted asylum in the U.S. last year. "Without a legal name change, I am forced to use an I.D. that is inconsistent with who I am and puts me in danger of harassment, violence, and being outed as transgender whenever I present it. I am simply asking for equal treatment under the law."

The plaintiff, listed as "John Doe" in the complaint, was born in Mexico and raised in Indiana, where he moved with his family when he was six-years old. Although born and raised as a girl, he has lived his entire adult life as a man and is recognized as a male on all official U.S. documents and his Indiana state ID. However, he remains unable to change his legal name in Indiana because of the 2010 state law that precludes non-citizens, including legal residents, from petitioning the state for a change.

"There is no legitimate reason for Indiana to prevent non-citizens from living consistently with their gender identity," said Matthew Barragan, a staff attorney with MALDEF. "Each of us should have the right to be known by the name of our choice."

The suit alleges the citizenship provision of the Indiana law is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause that guarantees individuals will not be discriminated against based on their alienage. Additionally, it violates the First Amendment right to freedom of speech by compelling speech from the plaintiff that betrays and falsely communicates the core of who he is, according to the complaint.

"Everyone should be able to live as their authentic selves no matter their gender identity or immigration status," said Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center. "Transgender immigrants already experience disproportionate violence without the government further jeopardizing their safety and privacy with this unnecessary and discriminatory rule."

"This law is a Catch-22 for the plaintiff and other transgender individuals in Indiana who are not yet able to become citizens. Their immigration status should not prevent them from obtaining a change of legal name so that they can safely navigate their daily lives with identity documents that are consistent with their gender," said local counsel Barbara J. Baird.

The legal team representing the plaintiff includes Thomas A. Saenz and Matthew J. Barragan of MALDEF in Los Angeles, Ilona Turner and Shawn Thomas Meerkamper of Transgender Law Center in Oakland, and local counsel Barbara J. Baird of the Law Office of Barbara J. Baird in Indianapolis.

Read a copy of the complaint HERE.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund