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Virginia Court Considers Transgender Name Change Request

January 4th, 2019

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a transgender inmate at a Federal Correctional Complex has good cause to receive a name change.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a transgender inmate at a Federal Correctional Complex has good cause to receive a name change.

The Virginia Supreme Court recently ruled that a transgender inmate at the Federal Correctional Complex in Petersburg may be entitled to change her name to reflect her identity. In making its decision, the court held that the Petersburg Circuit Court had erred in denying the inmate’s application for a name change without considering the merits. There is a still a risk, however, that the Circuit Court could follow the instructions given by the Supreme Court and still decide to reject the inmate’s request.

The Arguments Raised in the Case

The inmate is currently serving a 17-year sentence for possession of child pornography. After her scheduled release in 2020, the inmate will be transferred to a Missouri state prison to finish a sodomy sentence. As part of her request for a name change, the inmate has argued that being allowed to do so will have a significant psychological benefit in her life during her incarceration.

Conversely, other parties have argued that granting a name change might frustrate law enforcement’s need to identify and track the inmate’s transition between prisons and eventual registration as a sex offender.

New Laws about Changing Names for Transgender Individuals

Several years ago, Virginia’s General Assembly created laws that established a presumption against name changes for inmates. Under 2014 legislation, a judge must first decide if there is good cause for the name change. While the Virginia Supreme Court found good cause to consider the name change application, it found that the lower court judge had referred her application to the commonwealth before making a determination whether there was good cause for the name change.

The Impact of the Case

It remains uncertain how influential this case will be for other transgender individuals who are seeking name changes, and there are many struggling to do so all across the country. Recently in Colorado, after four years of attempts, transgender advocates abandoned their efforts at simplifying the process for transgender individuals to obtain birth certificates that match their gender identity through the Colorado legislature. Each time, their requests were denied by lawmakers who questioned the legitimacy of altering a document that is created upon a person’s birth.

Instead, in an effort to change Colorado law, a 13-year-old initiated legal action against the state, and the state has agreed to settle the case. Under current Colorado law, transgender individuals are required to prove that they have had gender-reassignment surgery to a judge before requesting a gender change on their birth certificate. There are many problems presented by current law, including that not all transgender individuals are interested in having gender-reassignment surgery, not all are healthy enough to do so, not all can afford this extremely expensive procedure, and some are minors who are not allowed to have the procedure.

Colorado decided to settle the case, and the state department of health will issue new guidelines that will allow someone to change their gender marker without surgery and choose from four options: male, female, intersex, or X.

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

Transgender individuals have made some significant advances in the last few years. Despite this, there are still numerous laws restricting the rights and abilities of people who identify as transgender. As changes to the law occur, the Universal Life Church’s blog is dedicated to documenting them here. Follow along to stay updated on these important issues.

(image courtesy of Jon Tyson)

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