Legal recognition of transgender and non-binary Pennsylvanians is not easy, they say


Credit: Monica Roybal

For Alex Quinn Range, who turned out to be non-binary last year, legal recognition has not been easy.

The name change resulted in an “exhausting” months-long process that required a “ridiculous” amount of paperwork, the Erie County resident, student and lawyer said last Tuesday at a Senate Policy Committee hearing. of the Democratic Caucus on Barriers for the Transgender Community. .

“Although I was fortunate to have supportive parents, we had no idea how much time, money and effort it would take me to live like myself,” Range said. .

They added: “We started the process in April, the court hearing was scheduled for May, and at the moment I am still in the process of having my name corrected on some accounts and documents.”

In total, Range’s family paid nearly $ 400 to legally change their names. Half of that cost was used to post a public hearing notice in their local newspaper, as well as the law journal, Range said.

“Which honestly, I didn’t even want to,” they added.

Another $ 150 was used to process their request at the courthouse; the rest went to correct their birth certificates and get a new ID, they said. Range is still awaiting name corrections, including on her Social Security card, which requires an original birth certificate and court order to prove the name change is legitimate.

This is a process that varies statewide and one that anyone in Pennsylvania must go through to legally change their name or gender identity – for whatever reason, Corinne Goodwin said. , Executive Director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Trans Equity Project based in Lehigh Valley. -Star.

The Eastern Pennsylvania Trans Equity Project represents an area of ​​10 counties and each county’s process is different, she said. Some counties require a third party to perform fingerprinting and background checks; others require residency documents for the past five years, as well as judgment searches.

“Some counties will do it by phone, and sometimes you have to get out of town,” she said. “There is no national process for this, and there is no single state process for this.”

When Goodwin – who owns her own business and has experience with legal documents – changed her name, she looked through the 30 pages of paperwork and thought, “Yeah, that’s way over my head. head “and hired a lawyer to help him through the process. , she said.

In Pennsylvania, the cost of a legal name change without a lawyer can range from $ 300 to $ 600, Goodwin said. With a lawyer, individuals could pay more than $ 2,000. The process, she added, can take up to 120 days, depending on court timetables and whether a person can be absent to file documents.

“And if you can’t take a day off for three weeks, it’s going to delay it,” she said.

For comparison, the name change process in New Hampshire costs $ 130. Application instructions are two pages long, and processing is estimated to take 45 days.

Citing the 2015 Pennsylvania US Transgender Survey, Olivia Hunt, senior legal counsel on identification documents for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said that 69% of those polled said none of their documents were found. Their identity only had the name and gender marker they preferred. Only 9% had their preferred name and gender on all ID documents and records. Thirty-five percent of those who had not changed their legal name said they had not done so because they could not afford it.

But cost isn’t the only deterrent, said Thomas Ude Jr., legal and public policy director at the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia. Publishing notices of hearing in local newspapers could pose a risk to someone’s privacy and security, he added.

“The publication is also different today than it was a dozen years ago. It doesn’t just appear in the classifieds section of the newspaper and then on a shelf, ”he said, noting that the publication could give someone access to the old and chosen name of a individual based on newspaper archives and a judicial database. . “It is a concern not only for personal safety, but also for economic security.”

In 2020, the rate of violence against transgender people was higher than any year since the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ rights group, began tracking data in 2013. So far this year, the advocacy group has reported at least four acts of violence against transgender people. and non-binary people in Pennsylvania.

“You expose yourself to the threat of physical violence,” Goodwin said, noting that some counties require the applicant to publish his address.

A person can ask to waive the obligation to publish, and in many cases they are successful, Goodwin said, but not always.

In Pennsylvania, there is also no statewide law to protect transgender and non-binary people from discrimination, which means that a landlord could refuse to rent to a tenant because of their behavior. gender identity without any repercussions, Goodwin added.

But the best way to make Pennsylvania’s name and gender identity change process easier is to establish a streamlined statewide process, Goodwin said.

“It doesn’t just impact people with a transgender experience,” Goodwin said, adding that someone might want to change their birth name later in life or change their name after a divorce. “It impacts cisgender people who want to change their name. It’s not just about transgender people. It’s anyone who has to change their name.

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Lucas E. Kelly

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