More News:

January 23, 2022

Pennslvania lawmakers seek to modernize 'antiquated' system for name-changes

Government Legislation
LGBTQ Equality Caucus Name Change The Office of Governor Tom Wolf/Governor Tom Wolf/Flickr

Members of the Pennsylvania LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus released a list of upcoming legislation that seeks to update the current name-change process, that impacts transgender individuals throughout the state. Though the package provides sweeping legislation, it is unlikely to receive support from the Republican-led legislature.

The LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus is recently released a package of bills aimed at improving the name-change process in Pennsylvania, according to House Democrats. The bipartisan caucus drafted six pieces of legislation intended to create a new, modernized process for those looking to change their names in the state. 

This comes following a Senate Democratic policy hearing on barriers transgender people experience in Pennsylvania, during which senators discussed the importance of easily accessible, name-change processes on the mental and emotional health of transgender individuals.

"As a matter of safety, efficiency, and equal application, an administrative name change procedure is preferable to one involving the courts," said Charlie Arrowood, a New York attorney, who works as Name Change Project Counsel at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund in addition to a private practice. "Court costs are often higher than other agency fees and interacting with the courts can be an overwhelming and unmanageable experience for many people." 

At the June hearing, Arrowood pointed to New York, Oregon, Maine, and Hawaii as examples of states who have chosen administrative procedures for name-changes, though many (like New York) still require a court appearance. 

The six pieces of legislation provide sweeping protections and updates to the current name-change procedure, which members of the caucus say are "antiquated." 

"Names are inherent to our identities," Rep. Emily Kinkead, of Allegheny County, said. "Placing legal, financial, and time barriers for trans people to claim their identities only serves to further burden a group that already faces tremendous odds at every level of our society."

One bill would create an entirely new, administrative name-change process. Currently, anyone who wants a name-change in Pennsylvania must appear in court, publicly admit intentions, and pay a $500 fee, according to Rep. Emily Kinkead, who represents Allegheny County. 

Rather than require those seeking a name-change to appear in court, shifting to an entirely administrative procedure makes the process much easier for all parties, according to Kinkead. 

Another proposed bill would end Pennsylvania's requirement that state-issued birth certificates include a sex designation. Instead, the sex designation would become private, and would be included primarily for medical and data purposes, rather than appearing publicly on person's birth certificate. 

Sex designation information would still be reported to the U.S. Standard Certificate of Live Birth system.

This follows a new policy adopted by the American Medical Association that states remove sex designation from the public portion of the birth certificate, saying that it contributes to the "marginalization" of those whose gender identity is separate from the designation that publicly appears on a birth certificate. 

"The current name change process in Pennsylvania is antiquated and can be traumatic for our transgender constituents; and we are long overdue on updating the process to bring it into the 21st century," Rep. Ben Sanchez, of Montgomery County, said. "The transgender community experiences discrimination constantly; their commonwealth should not be the source of one of those experiences." 

A third bill would eliminate the requirement to make name change proceedings public. It would make automatically sealing court records for name-changes the norm. Kearney said that the publication of those court records is unnecessary, and walking around with documentation that does not match one's gender identification can be a "trigger" for discrimination and stigmatization of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. 

Another bill would provide transgender individuals with financial and community-based assistance with name-change proceedings. The grants would go to established organizations that help transgender people with accessing and changing documentation, which is particularly important when accessing services that require legal documentation. 

A fifth bill would require publicly available information on the new name-change process, and include safe points of contact, as well as training for those implementing the new procedure. 

"We've already simplified this process for hundreds of thousands of individuals who change their names every year for marriage and divorce; there is no reason to cling to this antiquated process for a small subset of individuals," said Rep. Lindsey Williams, of Allegheny County.

Pennsylvania is one of 21 states that allows people to select "X" as a gender identifier on a state-issued driver's license, and is one of 19 states that has an unclear publication requirement for name-change proceedings, according to the Movement Advancement Project, which tracks laws relating to identity changes and documentation requirements by state. 

Though the list of proposed legislation has is sweeping and would provide an update to the current mechanisms for name changes, it is unlikely to receive support from the Republican-led state legislature. 

A spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus told the York Daily Record on Thursday that the focus of the state legislature is currently to "transition the Commonwealth out of crisis," and focus on the state's economy as Pennsylvania continues to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.