Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Make Name Change Process More Equitable for Transgender Pennsylvanians

Courtesy of Pennsylvania Senate

By Ashley Adams

April 11, 2022

State lawmakers introduced a package of six bills that would make it easier, safer, and more affordable for transgender people to change their names.

For Ronnie Lopez, the photo ID he carried around in his wallet everyday did not accurately reflect his true identity.

“Being asked to show my identification was a painful reminder I wasn’t living my truth,” said Lopez, a constituent relations specialist in Sen. Lindsey Williams’ office.

When Lopez decided to fix the situation and have his name and gender changed on all his government IDs, he encountered a long, confusing, and expensive process.

A legal name change is a crucial step for a transgender individual to affirm their identity and avoid being outed by an inaccurate ID. In Pennsylvania, about 80% of the transgender community lack the proper identification that reflect their true selves, said Corinne Goodwin, president of the Eastern PA Trans Equity Project.  

Ronnie Lopez (Courtesy of Pennsylvania Senate)

A group of state lawmakers have introduced a package of bills to update Pennsylvania’s antiquated name change process and provide funding and safeguards for those seeking to change their name.

“Our names are the most personal part of our lives,” Rep. Ben Sanchez (D-Montgomery) said during a news conference. “It is who we are known as, how we are recognized, and leads to personal feelings of belonging.”

Current Name Change Process

Changing your name in Pennsylvania because of marriage or divorce is a fairly simple process and costs only about $20. 

To change your name and gender on legal documents for other reasons, the process includes:

  • Filing a petition in the Court of Common Pleas
  • Being fingerprinted and having a background check done
  • Publishing a notice of intent to change your name in two newspapers
  • Providing proof of financial standing
  • Attending a judicial hearing where you will be questioned as to why you want to change your name

The process takes months, can cost hundreds of dollars, and can be denied any time for various reasons such as a mistake on your application.

Once the court grants the name change, you can now start the process of changing your various legal identifications including Social Security card, driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, etc.

Name Change Legislative Package

“Not having identification that affirms one’s identity can be a trigger for discrimination, mistreatment and violence against trans individuals,” Sen. Tim Kearney (D-Chester) said. “The process of legally changing your name to match your identity is arduous and unnecessarily public, without adding value.”

The Name Change Legislative Package includes the following bills:

  • Senate Bill 1145, introduced by Kearney, removes sex designation from Pennsylvania-issued birth certificates. This lines up with a recent recommendation from the American Medical Association.
  • Senate Bill 1146, introduced by Kearney, provides transgender name change assistance grants.
  • Senate Bill 1149, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny), requires the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to make publicly available information on the name change process, provide a dedicated safe point of contact for individuals who want to change their name, and training for administrative staff on how to handle this process.
  • Senate Bill 1150, introduced by Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-Delaware), creates a new administrative name change process that eliminates the need for court involvement.
  • Senate Bill 1154, introduced by Sen. Katie Muth (D-Montgomery), eliminates the publication requirement and mandates the sealing of all records from the outset of the proceedings. 
  • Senate Bill 1155, introduced by Muth, eliminates the restriction that bars convicted felons from changing their name. 

“We must do more to ensure that our transgender community is guaranteed the right to safe and authentic gender expression here in the commonwealth,” Muth said. “This package of legislation will finally remove some of the barriers and discrimination our LGBTQ+ community members continue to face when seeking to legally change their name.”

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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