Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s policy prohibiting transgender people born in Tennessee from correcting the gender marker on their birth certificates. Tennessee is one of just three remaining states, including Kansas and Ohio, where Lambda Legal has similar lawsuits currently pending in federal district court, to have such a discriminatory policy.
“I have been a woman my entire life. However, the state of Tennessee refuses to recognize my identity and forces me to carry incorrect identity documents. Tennessee’s discriminatory policy complicates every aspect of transgender people’s lives,” said plaintiff Kayla Gore, 33, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee. “In times where anti-trans violence is escalating, especially against transgender women of color, I deserve to have identity documents that reflect who I am and don’t put me in harm’s way—the same as anyone would want for themself and their loved ones.”
“Tennessee’s birth certificate policy is archaic and discriminatory. By refusing to correct the birth certificates of transgender Tennesseans, Tennessee puts transgender people in harm’s way and violates our most fundamental constitutional rights,” said Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan. “Forty-seven states, D.C., and Puerto Rico acknowledge the importance of allowing people to have access to essential government identity documents that accurately reflect their sex, consistent with their gender identity. It is time for Tennessee to join them. We won’t rest until we remove every governmental barrier to recognizing and respecting every transgender person’s identity in this country.”
Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville on behalf of four transgender people born in Tennessee: Kayla Gore, Jason Scott, and two plaintiffs identified by their initials, L.G. and K.N. With this lawsuit, Tennessee is the fifth jurisdiction with a categorical exclusion on birth certificates that Lambda Legal has challenged, including Puerto Rico and Idaho, where the civil rights organization secured victories in court that prompted policy changes.
“A birth certificate is an extremely important and necessary document for every aspect of life,” said plaintiff Jason Scott, 47, who was born in Tennessee and now lives in Seattle, Washington. “I have had to put up with a lot since I decided to live as the man that I am over 25 years ago. The state of Tennessee does not get to define who I am by incorrectly identifying me as female on my birth certificate. Getting a correct birth certificate in alignment with who I am would be life-changing.”
In the lawsuit, Gore v. Lee, Lambda Legal argues that denying transgender people in Tennessee the ability to obtain accurate birth certificates violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit also argues that forcing transgender people through their birth certificates to identify with a sex that is not who they are violates their free speech rights under the First Amendment.
“Merchant & Gould is proud to provide pro bono legal services to advance the cause of civil rights and pleased to partner with Lambda Legal once again,” said John Winemiller, Ph.D., managing partner of Merchant & Gould’s Knoxville office and local counsel on this case. “A birth certificate is a person’s most important identifying document, and all people have a right to express their identity without discrimination.”
“Baker Botts is proud to partner with Lambda Legal on this important case, and we look forward to seeing it through to a successful conclusion,” said Stuart Plunkett, co-counsel in the case and partner at the law firm Baker Botts.
There are a number of anti-LGBT bills moving in the Tennessee legislature, including bills that would allow child welfare agencies to reject same-sex couples seeking to adopt based on religious grounds, once again prohibit same-sex couples from marrying, and restrict transgender people’s access to facilities. This federal lawsuit lies in direct contrast to these attempts to dehumanize LGBT people and institutionalize discrimination, and sends a message that the government must recognize a person’s core identity.
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, almost one-third of transgender who showed an identity document with a name or gender marker that conflicted with their perceived gender were harassed, denied benefits or services, discriminated against or assaulted. Transgender people also are disproportionately targeted for hate crimes.
Handling the case on behalf of Lambda Legal are Senior Attorneys Omar Gonzalez-Pagan and Sasha Buchert, and Counsel Tara Borelli. They are joined by pro-bono co-counsel Stuart C. Plunkett, Maddy Dwertman, Brandt Thomas Roessler, Kathryn S. Christopherson of Baker Botts L.L.P. and John Winemiller of Merchant & Gould P.C.