Uncertainty over LGBT rights under Trump administration spurs ID document changes

    Transgender people are rushing to get their names and gender changed on birth certificates and other identification in anticipation of changes from the Trump administration. (Pamela Au/Bigstock)

    Transgender people are rushing to get their names and gender changed on birth certificates and other identification in anticipation of changes from the Trump administration. (Pamela Au/Bigstock)

    Birth certificates, U.S. passports, Social Security cards — these are just some of the official documents on which a trans person’s gender or legal name might not match their identity.

    Shawn DeVault of Easton, Pennsylvania, who uses the pronoun “they,” said the election pushed them to finally change their legal name.

    “I have a feeling of not knowing what the future holds for me and people like me … I have a fear it will be made more difficult,” DeVault said about their decision to initiate the legal name change process, which requires an individual to file a petition in Common Pleas Court and pay to advertise the hearing in local papers.

    LGBT centers in Pennsylvania report an upswing in requests for legal advice on changing these documents since Nov. 8, amid questions about what new leadership in the White House can and will change.

    Some, like DeVault, had been putting off changes that LGBT lawyers recommend as means of safeguarding trans people in situations where they might not what to disclose that they have transitioned.

    “Not having accurate records is something that exposes people to risk,” said Thomas Ude, legal and public policy director at the Mazzoni Center, an LGBT health and community center in Philadelphia. That includes “harassment, discrimination in employment and other areas or even violence,” he said.

    While the conversation around changing identity documents tends to focus on trans people, the practice may be necessary for people with many different experiences in the LGBT community whose names or gender identities do not match their legal documents. By way of example, DeVault identifies as genderqueer and said they only feel the need to change their name, not their gender marker, on official paperwork.

    “It’s important for people to take action, control the parts of their lives they can control,” said Ude.

    Many are now heeding that call.

    Adrian Shanker, executive director of the Bradbury Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, said a legal clinic on changing identity documents during the week of Nov. 14 drew a much larger crowd than normal.

    At stake are mandates by outgoing President Barack Obama.

    “Many of the gains that we received, made as a community in terms of legal victories, came as executive action under President Obama … including presidential executive actions that streamlined the process for name and gender changes,” Shanker said, which could be vulnerable under a new president.

    The Mazzoni Center has fielded more than 150 requests for help with identity documents since the election, according to spokeswoman Elisabeth Flynn.

    Clients have also approached LGBT centers for guidance around health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, according to Shanker, who said insurance contracts started before Jan. 20 will be binding.

    A patchwork of federal, state and local laws protect the rights of LGBT people and cannot be undone by a single election.

    Shanker stressed certain document processes can’t be changed at the federal level — such as the Pennsylvania law making it easier to change the gender marker on a birth certificate.

    Twelve people have changed the gender marker on their birth certificates since August when that process stopped requiring proof of gender-confirmation surgery as a prerequisite, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

    Municipal antidiscrimination statutes will also continue to provide a legal umbrella for LGBT residents of Reading, Allentown and Philadelphia.

    This story has been updated to reflect more detailed information about the instances when a person may want to change their legal name or gender marker.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.