Name Changes and Gender Markers: Why Laws Matter

Name Changes and Gender Markers: Why Laws Matter June 2, 2017

By Pat Green

“Dad, they called me the wrong name at school. They said that wouldn’t happen again.” His hurt over the phone was palpable. The principle of his school had promised us last school year that this would not happen again. Even though in Illinois schools can enter a student’s chosen name into the roster, inept lawyers at my son’s school set a policy that the legal name has to be entered. The chosen name was hand written and sometimes mistakes were made. It was time to get the legal name change. Name changes and gender markers matter because they prevent hurtful things like this from happening.

It was a few months later that we sat in a court room and our lawyer stood before the judge to make the case for my son’s name to be legally changed. The judge heard the lawyer out and ruled in my son’s favor. We then went to the court clerks office to get copies of the legal name change.

On the way back to the school from the courthouse he kept staring at the court order with a smile on his face. He was validated in a legal document as himself. He was already this young man, now he had a court order stating it. When we got to the school he went to class and I went to the office.

I handed the registrar the form and she regarded it for a moment and put it to the side. Their entering this data into the system meant no one would ever make a mistake based on handwritten sheets ever again. As soon as his name was in the computer there was only one name for him. I stood there and stared at her with a small smile on my face.

“Yes?” she asked, realizing I was staring at her.

“I’ll wait,” I said with a smile.

“For?” she asked.

“For you to enter his name into the computer. I’ll wait.” Then I continued to stare at her and smile. She regarded me for a moment and realized I was not going anywhere. Then she grabbed the form and entered his name into the system. Finally, she stamped the document and looked up at me. “Thank you so much.”, I said, “You have a wonderful day.” I meant it. We were having the best day ever.

After school he told me that two of his teachers congratulated him on the legal name change. One got misty eyed as she told him that she was proud of him. This day was a wonderful day.

In short time we were able to get his social security card changed. He has a drivers license now and it has his legal name. Soon the passport will be changed as well. Each one of these steps requires learning the law, standing in lines, filling out forms and hoping the person at the other end of the desk knows the law as well as you do.

Name changes are only half the battle in legal validation and recognition. There’s also gender markers. Not everyone knows what a gender marker is. Gender markers are the bit on some ID’s that state you are either a male or a female.

Earlier this week, the Oregon governor signed the transgender equity law into place. This law makes it easier for gender markers and names to be changed so that transgender children and adults can be recognized as they are. Last time I checked, and I could be off by a state or two, 13 states now have similar laws in place.

Illinois lawmakers just passed a bill that makes it easier for transgender individuals to modify birth certificates. I honestly have no idea if Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner will sign it into law. I hope he does.

Without going into detail, there are several places in life where gender markers and names have to be changed. When a law passes that makes it easier to change the marker and names, there is more dignity offered to my son and others like him.

Many transgender people choose to be incognito. In other words, they never say that they are transgender. When discovered, they are exposed to dangers and discrimination. In the case of my son, being called by his assigned name and gender in front of his peers in school was hurtful. It was a reminder of having to justify his existence, his gender and his very name to others. His name was not in an official roster, his name was treated as a handwritten nickname. A preference.

These laws are not the end all be all to equality. There is still a long way to go. There is no silver bullet law or solution to the darker sides of societal acceptance. But every step forward is another light that brightens the world for my son and his friends.

We are making progress. The things that hinder the legal process? I will be honest. It is mostly Republican Christians. They spread fear and uncertainty and doubt into the mix. They often claim that equality will expose kids to predators in the bathroom or use dated studies that have been refuted. Ignorance and fear is their weapon and they use it effectively.

The truth of the matter is that my son just wants to be called by his proper name in school and have a drivers license that says he is who he is. These are daily things that most of us do not have to think about. Transgender people do, and it is an uphill battle.

Follow the laws, call and write your representatives. Vote when you have something on the ballot that can help ease the burden. There should not be a burden and this should not be as arduous as it is.

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