Victory! Court Tells Puerto Rico to Issue Accurate Birth Certificates for Transgender Puerto Ricans

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April 4, 2018
Lambda Legal client Daniela Arroyo González

Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico struck down a policy that prevented transgender people born in Puerto Rico from correcting the gender marker on their birth certificates and ordered Commonwealth officials to allow such corrections.

Lambda Legal, joined by pro bono co-counsel from Ropes & Gray, challenged Puerto Rico’s categorical ban on corrections to the gender marker in birth certificates last April in a first-of-its-kind federal lawsuit. 

“This is a tremendous victory for our clients and all transgender people born in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican government must now allow transgender Puerto Ricans to change the gender markers on their birth certificates so that they accurately reflect and affirm their identities,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal.

“The Commonwealth’s categorical ban was not only discriminatory; it also was a relic from the past reflecting archaic views about who we are as a people and a society. A birth certificate is an essential identity document. It is vital for identity documents to accurately reflect who we are. We are pleased that the court recognized that the government cannot interfere with transgender people’s ability to live as their authentic selves and that attempts to do so are unconstitutional.”

In granting Lambda Legal’s motion for summary judgment, the Court found the current birth certificate policy to be unconstitutional, in part, because “the forced disclosure of plaintiffs’ transgender status violates their fundamental right to informational privacy.”

The Court will issue a separate Opinion and Order in which it will outline its factual findings and conclusions of law, as well as the method or relief required to correct the gender marker on plaintiffs’ birth certificates to accurately reflect their gender identity, without revealing their transgender status.

Lambda Legal client Victoria Rodríguez Roldán

In early April, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit challenging the ban 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 suit also argues that the ban violates transgender Puerto Ricans’ right to free speech under the First Amendment.  Since filing this case, Lambda Legal has also successfully challenged a similar categorical ban in Idaho in F.V. v. Barron and sued the State of Ohio over its ban in Ray v. Himes

"This is an important step forward in the fight for the rights of transgender people in Puerto Rico," said client, Daniela Arroyo-González.

"It is a huge relief to finally have an accurate birth certificate that is a true reflection of who I am. It makes me feel safer and like my country finally recognizes me, respects me, and protects my identity as a woman. As of today, trans people in Puerto Rico are more free. This is the right decision."

"Today, transgender Puerto Ricans are closer to the equal protection under the law that is promised in the Constitution,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder and president of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, an organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“We are grateful for the transgender plaintiffs in this case for their courage and we are proud to have partnered, once again, with Lambda Legal in advancing equal rights for LGBT Puerto Ricans. We must not rest until full equality is achieved for all LGBT people in Puerto Rico and elsewhere." 

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, almost one-third of transgender individuals 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 individuals also are disproportionately targeted for hate crimes.