Appeals Court: No Legal Requirement To Publicize Gender Change Petitions

Sep 8, 2017

Credit Joe Gratz / https://www.flickr.com/photos/joegratz/

An Indiana Court of Appeals decision on rules surrounding gender changes in legal documents could make transitioning more private – and arguably much safer – for transgender Hoosiers.

The court has overturned a Tippecanoe County judge’s ruling which relied on an 1852 law requiring public notices of changes to legal documents such as birth certificates. Reached by phone, Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane said the statute probably needs an update.

Theo Ciccarelli Cornetta is a staff attorney at Indiana Legal Services and runs its Low-Income LGBT Project, which targets issues including identity documents.

Ciccarelli Cornetta was the attorney for two individuals in the case that both experienced discrimination -- and one, physical violence -- for being trans. Ciccarelli Cornetta says the decision now allows people to make proper changes to their legal documents without fear.

“I’ve seen those people who have come forward now feeling like it is safer for them,” Ciccarelli Cornetta says. “And especially when we’re talking about how much things are online now – publishing in the newspaper can now be online, it can be searchable -- it becomes much more dangerous for individuals.”

The appellate court says there’s no requirement to publish a gender marker change notice in the newspaper and a name change publication could be waived if it would put the person at risk of harm. Then, that record could be sealed to prevent future harm or discrimination.

That exception could also include petitions from domestic violence survivors or identity theft victims.

“This doesn’t just apply to trans people, but this applies to people who are changing their name and there is that risk of harm in publicizing it to everyone,” Ciccarelli Cornetta says.

In some states – such as Kentucky and Arkansas – there’s no publication requirement at all.