Basil Argento and Stacie Ray of Columbus are two of the plaintiffs suing the Ohio Department of Health for the right to change the gender marker on their state-issued birth certificates. Liam Gallagher, far right, is a member of the ACLU of Ohio’ TransAction Committee. (Prizm photo)

Ohio is one of just three states that refuses to let trans people change the gender marker on their birth certificates. The lawsuit says that’s discrimination.

 

By Bob Vitale

Four transgender Ohioans filed a federal lawsuit today against the state Department of Health for its refusal to let people change the gender marker on their birth certificates, contending that the policy subjects them to discrimination, harassment and potential violence.

“Accurate identity documents are essential to every person’s ability to navigate through life,” reads the lawsuit filed in Columbus on behalf of three women still identified as male by Ohio’s Office of Vital Statistics and one man who’s still identified as female.

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“Access to employment, education, housing, healthcare, banking, travel and government services often depend on having documentation that accurately reflects a person’s identity. A birth certificate is a basic identity document routinely relied upon for many purposes, including as a prerequisite to obtain other essential identity documents.”

At a news conference announcing the suit, two of the plaintiffs said their inaccurate documents add months to routine tasks such as pre-employment background checks. Ohio does allow transgender people to change the gender on their driver’s licenses, so the discrepancy often leads to uncomfortable questions from total strangers, they said.

They fear it also could lead to worse.

“This isn’t just humiliating, it’s dangerous,” said Stacie Ray of Columbus, who described being involuntarily outed over identification issues at one job and leaving a government office in tears when a clerk loudly informed her that the gender markers on her birth certificate and driver’s license didn’t match.

Ray said she quit the job after coworker began calling her “the freak” and another woman threatened to beat her up if she used the women’s restroom.

Susan Becker, general counsel for the ACLU of Ohio, said a recent federal court decision in Idaho ruled that that state’s refusal to allow gender-marker changes on birth certificates was a form of gender-based discrimination. Idaho will implement a new policy by April 6.

Ohio is one of three states left—Tennessee and Kansas are the others—that still denies transgender people the right to amend their birth certificates. Becker said the state does allow changes, though, in name or parentage.

“Ohio’s birth certificate policy isn’t just an ill-advised outlier,” she said. “It’s unconstitutional.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal, as well as the Columbus law firm of Thompson Hine, are representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. It was filed against Ohio Department of Health Director Lance Himes, who as interim director of the agency in 2014 was named as defendant in a marriage-equality lawsuit that was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Melanie Amato said the agency is aware of the lawsuit but doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

In addition to Ray, the Ohioans suing for a change in state policy are Basil Argento of Columbus, Angela Breda of Youngstown, and an unidentified doctor from Dayton. Breda now lives in Phoenix, and the doctor now lives in New Mexico.

Argento recently has been trying to obtain Italian citizen, an option for some Italian-Americans. He said the incorrect gender listed on his Ohio birth certificate has turned a routine process into one that has required multiple trips to the Italian consulate in Detroit and about $7,500 in legal fees.

 

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com