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Judge: Puerto Rico must allow transgender people to change birth certificate sex

By on April 4, 2018

SAN JUAN – The U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico has struck down a policy that prevented transgender people born in Puerto Rico from correcting the gender marker on their birth certificates and ordered commonwealth officials to allow such corrections. Lambda Legal challenged the island’s ban on corrections to the gender marker in birth certificates last April.

“This is a tremendous victory for our clients and all transgender people born in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican government must now allow transgender Puerto Ricans to change the gender markers on their birth certificates so that they accurately reflect and affirm their identities,” Lambda Legal attorney Omar González-Pagán said in a statement.

“The Commonwealth’s categorical ban was not only discriminatory; it also was a relic from the past reflecting archaic views about who we are as a people and a society. A birth certificate is an essential identity document. It is vital for identity documents to accurately reflect who we are. We are pleased that the court recognized that the government cannot interfere with transgender people’s ability to live as their authentic selves and that attempts to do so are unconstitutional.”

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In granting Lambda’s motion for summary judgment, the court found the current birth certificate policy to be unconstitutional, in part, because “the forced disclosure of plaintiffs’ transgender status violates their fundamental right to informational privacy.”

The court will issue a separate opinion and order, in which it will outline its findings and conclusions, as well as the method or relief required to correct the gender marker on plaintiffs’ birth certificates, without revealing their transgender status.

In early April last year, Lambda filed a lawsuit challenging the ban on behalf of two transgender women, Daniela Arroyo González and Victoria Rodríguez Roldán, and one transgender man, J.G., identified only by his initials, as well as Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, an organizational plaintiff, arguing that denying transgender Puerto Ricans the ability to obtain accurate birth certificates violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution by forcing them, through their birth certificates, to identify with a gender that is not who they are.

The suit also argues that the ban violates transgender Puerto Ricans’ right to free speech under the First Amendment. Since filing the case, Lambda also successfully challenged a similar ban in Idaho, in F.V. v. Barron, and sued the State of Ohio over its ban, in Ray v. Himes.

“This is an important step forward in the fight for the rights of transgender people in Puerto Rico,” Arroyo-González said in a release. “It is a huge relief to finally have an accurate birth certificate that is a true reflection of who I am. It makes me feel safer and like my country finally recognizes me, respects me, and protects my identity as a woman. As of today, trans people in Puerto Rico are more free. This is the right decision.”

“Today, transgender Puerto Ricans are closer to the equal protection under the law that is promised in the Constitution,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder and president of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s. “We are grateful for the transgender plaintiffs in this case for their courage and we are proud to have partnered, once again, with Lambda Legal in advancing equal rights for LGBT Puerto Ricans. We must not rest until full equality is achieved for all LGBT people in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.”

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