Court to Strike Down Puerto Rico’s Policy Denying Transgender People Accurate Birth Certificates

Court to Strike Down Puerto Rico’s Policy Denying Transgender People Accurate Birth Certificates

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Photo: Daniela Arroyo-González
Photo: Daniela Arroyo-González

Lambda Legal filed papers Monday urging a federal court to strike down Puerto Rico’s policy denying transgender people accurate birth certificates in its case on behalf of three transgender people born in Puerto Rico and the advocacy group Puerto Rico Para Tod@s.

“The ability to define and express one’s identity, and to have that identity respected by the government, is at the very core of our constitutional rights to individual liberty, dignity, and autonomy. Puerto Rico’s absolute prohibition on the ability of transgender people to have accurate birth certificates violates the constitutional rights of transgender people born in the Commonwealth,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. “The ban endangers transgender people who have identity documents that don’t match who they are by putting them at greater risk for being ‘outed’ as transgender and increasing the likelihood of discrimination, harassment and violence.”

In early April, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico 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, 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 transgender Puerto Ricans, through their birth certificates, to identify with a gender that is not who they are. The ban also violates transgender Puerto Ricans’ right to free speech under the First Amendment. The defendants, the government of Puerto Rico, responded with a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on June 12, which the plaintiffs also opposed on Monday.

“Birth certificates serve as proof of identity, it is also often a prerequisite to gain employment, enroll in school, and to determine eligibility for important benefits. The overwhelming majority of the states in the U.S. recognize this, 46 out of the 50 states allow transgender individuals to amend the gender marker. Not to mention, this practice is way out of line with Puerto Rico’s own policy of allowing transgender people to amend their gender marker on driver’s licenses,” added Gonzalez-Pagan.

“Without an accurate birth certificate that is congruent with my identity and that reflects my true gender (woman/female), I feel disrespected, rejected, and invalidated by Puerto Rico, my home, where I was born and have lived my whole life,” said Daniela Arroyo-González. “I and all transgender people born on the island deserve to be treated as equal citizens. We are not free until we are able to express who we truly are just like the rest of my fellow Puerto Ricans who are not transgender. Denying us accurate birth certificates is an act of discrimination, and furthermore, it puts us in a very vulnerable position.”

The lawsuit is Arroyo-González et al. v. Rosselló-Nevares et al. You can read Monday’s filing at the following links:

Read about birth certificate policies across the United States here: lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/article/trans-changing-birth-certificate-sex-designations.

Handling the case on behalf of Lambda Legal are: Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Demoya Gordon, Dru Levasseur and Kara Ingelhart.  They are joined by pro-bono co-counsel Celina Romany-Siaca of San Juan, PR, and Richard Batchelder, Daniel O’Connor, Aliki Sofis, David Soutter, Sara Jones and Bonnie Doyle of Ropes & Gray LLP.

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