Transgender Women Fight Law Blocking Inmates' Name Change
By The Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — Three transgender women have filed a lawsuit challenging a Texas law that bars federal prison inmates from legally changing their names while in custody and within two years after serving their sentence.
Donna Langan and Teresa De Barbarac are still serving time, but Alexandra Carson has been recently released. They argue that their inability to legally change their names is a cruel and unusual punishment.
Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are listed as defendants in the lawsuit filed Wednesday. Their offices declined to comment.
Attorney Brian McGiverin, the civil rights attorney who filed the petition on behalf of three transgender women, said denying transgender people the right to change their name increases their risk of depression and suicide. He added that it also subjects a person to harassment and makes everything from employment to housing more difficult. A 2018 study showed dead naming, which is when someone refers to transgender person by their previous name, increased suicidal behavior in transgender youth by 56%.
“Being misnamed and misgendered is a kind of intense gas-lighting that amounts to psychological torture,” McGiverin noted.
The lawsuit cited the United States Trans Survey of 27,715 transgender people, which found that 32% of people who had identifying documents that did not reflect their gender identity had an increased incidence of verbal and physical assault, as well as denial of services and benefits.
Langan said that even though the federal prison system acknowledged she is transgender by placing her in an all-women prison and providing her with hormone replacement therapy, she is still not allowed to change her name, according to the lawsuit.
De Barbarac said she almost died because of the name discrepancy, the lawsuit alleges. Emergency medical technicians refused to touch her after looking at her identification card and realizing she was transgender.
Carson said in the suit she cannot legally change her name until 2023 because of this rule. She said having her legal name on her identification records makes it difficult to maintain housing or a job and opens her up to fraud accusations from bank tellers, police officers and landlords.
The lawsuit also challenges the law's application to individuals in state-run facilities who want to change their name.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons released a protocol in 2017 that provided specific provisions for changing transgender inmates’ names. But name changes operate under state law, so Texas inmates do not fall under this provision.
McGiverin noted that some states allow inmates confined in federal prisons to legally change their names. Texas is among 10 states that use conviction history to restrict name changes, according to Trans Pride Initiative.