A transgender man is suing the state of Indiana for not allowing him to change his legal name — because he's not a U.S. citizen.
State law requiring proof of citizenship for a name change, he said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, discriminates against him because of his non-citizen status, and it violates his freedom of speech and privacy to protect his gender identity.
"It is embarrassing," the man said, "and puts me in danger of violence and discrimination."
He is not a U.S. citizen but lives in the country legally. The man is a 31-year-old Indiana resident whose name is withheld in the lawsuit, which lists him as "John Doe."
Having his female birth name on his state identification outs him as transgender and has caused issues when the man was pulled over by a police officer, when he sought treatment at a hospital and when he ordered a drink at a restaurant, the lawsuit said.
The police officer didn't understand why a man had a female name, the man said: "He said I was playing games, and I would be arrested unless I showed him my real ID."
He said the female birth name also forced him to lose a job opportunity when he had to explain he was transgender.
The man filed the civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis, with the help of the Transgender Law Center and MALDEF, a Latino legal civil rights organization. It names Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Marion County Clerk Myla Eldridge as defendants.
The attorney general's office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
"The state shouldn't have to force anyone to out themselves as transgender, at constant risk of their own safety, just because they aren't citizens," said Isa Noyola, programs director for the Transgender Law Center.
The man was born in Mexico, and his family moved to Indiana when he was 6. In 2015, the lawsuit said, the U.S. granted him asylum because of the risk that he would face persecution in Mexico because he is transgender.
Before that, in 2013, he had received Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, which allows children who entered the country illegally to stay and receive a work permit.
He intends to apply for permanent residency this month, the lawsuit said, and would need to wait at least three years before applying for naturalization.
He has lived as a man throughout his adult life, he said, coming out to friends and family in 2012. His gender is recognized as male on all official U.S. documents, the lawsuit said, including his Indiana state identification and immigration documents.
MALDEF staff attorney Matthew Barragan said he has not found other states that require citizenship in order to obtain a name change.
"It's really not a case about transgender rights," said Steve Sanders, an associate professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law. "It's a case about the rights of legal aliens where, in this case, the impact falls particularly hard and in a particularly dramatic way on a transgender person."
The lawsuit noted that the citizenship requirement in Indiana law, passed in 2010, "was first enacted as part of a measure targeting identity theft and with the specific purpose of making it 'more difficult for illegal immigrants to create new identities.'"
But because the man is a legal immigrant, Sanders said the state would be held to the highest level of scrutiny to prove why it needs to treat him differently from a U.S. citizen.
Some legal privileges apply only to U.S. citizens, but other portions of the law — including the constitutional right to equal protection and due process in the Fourteenth Amendment — treat citizens and non-citizens equally.
While it is a case based on alienage, Sanders said it highlights the indignities and legal difficulties that transgender people often face.
"It does put you in sort of an odd situation to have your gender legally changed, but still be forced to live under a name that doesn't fit your gender," Sanders said.