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Tennessee Judge Hands Down Devastating Decision for Transgender People

Tennessee Judge Hands Down Devastating Decision for Transgender People

<p>Tennessee Judge Hands Down Devastating Decision for Transgender People</p>

The four trans plaintiffs in Tennessee had sought to change the sex designation on their birth certificates.

A federal district court judge in Tennessee dismissed a lawsuit from a group of transgender plaintiffs who sought to overturn a 1977 law and change the designated sex that appears on their birth certificates.

U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee found that while there are multiple definitions for the word “sex,” the word “has a very narrow and specific meaning” when it comes to birth certificates. While the plaintiffs had argued gender identity should be the criteria used, Richardson maintained that the “external genitalia at the time of birth” determined a person’s sex designation on the document.

The ruling left the plaintiffs devastated.

“At a time where we are under attack, I am devastated to see that after years waiting for this decision, the court has refused to allow us the opportunity to prove our case,” lead plaintiff Kayla Gore, 37, who lives in Memphis, said in a statement. “Tennessee’s discriminatory birth certificate policy has not only gravely impacted my life, but also presents a roadblock for all transgender Tennesseans. We deserve recognition and dignity from the government just as much as every other Tennessean.”

“It’s hard to exist as a transgender person in Tennessee at this moment. To have the court join state officials to willfully not see us for who we are adds to that burden,” plaintiff Jaime Combs, 54, who lives near Knoxville, said. “All my life I’ve been carrying an inaccurate birth certificate, complicating my life and making me feel not seen by my government. Today, my heart is saddened as the court has refused to address the harms imposed by Tennessee’s policy, but I will continue to fight against the discrimination that continues to be perpetuated by the state of Tennessee.”

Two additional plaintiffs who were identified only by their initials were also party to the suit. The four plaintiffs were represented by Lambda Legal, which filed the suit in 2019.

“We are very disappointed in yesterday’s decision, which fails to acknowledge the incontrovertible truth that birth certificates are the quintessential identity document. Tennessee’s discriminatory birth certificate policy forces transgender Tennesseans to out themselves and to use an identity document inconsistent with who they are. This is wrong,” Lambda Legal counsel and health care strategist Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said in a statement. “As Tennessee continues to target transgender people for discrimination and opprobrium, we will continue to fight for their rights. We continue to evaluate what next steps we will take in this case.”

Tennessee allows some changes to the sex designation on a person’s birth certificate, but specifically forbids making the change because of gender-affirming medical procedures. At the time the lawsuit was filed, Tennessee was one of only three states that did not allow a person to change their sex designation on their birth certificates, although Ohio and Kansas had their laws overturned in federal court.

Joining Gonzalez-Pagan on the case from Lambda Legal were Senior Counsel Tara Borelli, and Senior Attorney and Director of the Non-Binary and Transgender Rights Project Sasha Buchert. They were joined by pro-bono co-counsel Gavin Villareal, Maddy Dwertman, and Brandt Roessler of Baker Botts LLP and John Winemiller of Merchant & Gould.

Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed into law an anti-gender-affirming care bill as well as a drag ban — which was blocked — that many local advocates said was rooted in transphobia.

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