Experts in the treatment of trans people . . . insist that respect for a patient's identity, including a gender-appropriate name and pronouns, constitute medically necessary care. Prisons are required to provide medically necessary care.

#Project103 in the News, 2018


Ending social structures of violence against trans persons includes ready access to affirming names for all of us!

End Trans ID Marginalization

For trans persons, affirming identity documents can be essential to survival. Inaccurate documents can impede employment and create problems accessing health care, housing, and social services. In fact, all administrative interactions are made more difficult with inaccurate identity documents. Denying access to affirming documentation is government-sponsored violence.

It is already difficult and expensive enough for trans persons to access affirming documentation. The effect of this disparity is that trans persons face more problems accessing housing, employment, legal representation, and social services that many of us need for our stability in life, and even for survival. And greater difficulty accessing these means greater likelihood of interactions with street economies, in turn leading to higher rates of police harassment, arrest, and conviction. This means that trans persons are over-represented in prisons, with incarceration rates estimated to be four times that of cisgender persons; for trans persons of color, disproportionality in incarceration is many times higher.

One way the State of Texas harms trans persons is by setting up barriers to affirming documentation such as Section 45.103 of the Texas Family Code. This statute, in part, prohibits a person with a felony conviction from changing their name (and gender marker) for for two years after the completion of all terms of their sentence.

We argue that this is an unconstitutional barrier, and one that disproportionally impacts trans people and further criminalizes our survival.

Project 103 is expected to show that Section 45.103 of the Texas Family Code is unconstitutional.

(For additional information about how preventing access to identity documents marginalizes trans persons, see our Further Reading section.)

Marsha P. Johnson Image courtesy of Sophia Albert, used with permission.


Filing Suit Against the State

TPI will post in this section information about our suit and links to news articles and other items of importance concerning the suit and court processes.

Note that the original suit, recorded as case number 1:19-cv-1182, was refiled March 16, 2020, and assigned case number 1:20-cv-275 (follow on CourtListener).

  • February 20, 2020—Gov. Greg Abbott, AG Ken Paxton sued over Texas name change law, by Billy Gates, KXAN.
  • January 27, 2020—What's in a Name?, by Beth Schwartzapfel, The Marshall Project. Co-published as These trans women are taking states to court for the right to legally change their names, at Vox.
  • December 6, 2019—Transgender women fight law blocking inmates' name change, by Associated Press, The New York Times (no longer available online; see below for same article).
  • December 6, 2019—Transgender women fight law blocking inmates' name change, by Associated Press, ABC News.
  • December 6, 2019—Transgender women fight law blocking inmates' name change, by Associated Press, AP News.
  • December 6, 2019—Transgender women fight law blocking inmates' name change, by Associated Press, U.S. News and World Report.
  • December 6, 2019—Fort Worth trans inmate sues Texas over law that prevents her from changing legal name, by Kaley Johnson and Tessa Weinberg, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
  • December 6, 2019—Texas trans women sue to allow inmate name and gender marker change, by Killi Busey, Planet Transgender.
  • December 5, 2019—Transgender inmates in Texas seek name change to fit gender identity, suit says, by Ryan Autullo, Austin American Statesman. The same story was also run in several other affilited news outlets: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
  • Suit Dismissed, Next Steps

    On February 9, 2021, unfortunately the judge in our suit dismissed the case before even considering the merits of the claim that 45.103 is unconstitutional. The judge admitted that, as the attorneys for the plaintiffs noted, the Attorney General's interpretation that the judiciary is “tasked with enforcing Texas Family Code 45.103 'leads to an absurd result' . . . [and t]he Court agrees that this appears to be a strange result.” The order is availble here.

    This is not the end of our efforts. We are developing a subsequent effort that we will disclose later to bring this to the court in a different way, which in the end will likely put the case back in federal court. We will provide more information when we are able.

    March 10, 2020, Survey on Human Rights Impact of Denying Name Changes

    Human Rights Clinic Survey image

    The University of Texas Human Rights Clinic is investigating the effects of Texas Family Code Section 45.103, the law preventing transgender people from changing their names for a period of two years following discharge or completion of parole, juvenile supervision, and incarceration.

    The Clinic investigated the effects of this law at the request of the Austin Community Law Center (ACLC) and believes that the law violates human rights. The ACLC is handling the suit, which is a centerpiece of Project 103.

    As part of its investigations, the Clinic is conducting a survey to gather information about how this ban affects people's health and well-being. We encourage anyone who is trans or gender diverse and has a felony conviction history to please consider taking this survey to provide information about your experiences and how this law may have affected you.

    Feb. 20, 2020, Statement from Alexandra Carson

    I grew up in a small town in Texas, where I still live. Growing up, I knew that transgender people existed, but I never realized it could apply to me. The area and environment which I was raised offered no education on the subject.

    When I was 23, I was living life assuming that I was a gay man, and a trans woman came up to me and identified me as one of her sisters. People seemed to recognize in me that which I had not previously been able to comprehend beforehand. It's only then that I began investigating the possibility that I was a trans woman.

    Unfortunately, it wasn't until I was in prison that I realized I am female, and that I was comfortable being identified as female. My incarceration largely stems from drug use and poor self-image and the people I associated with and those people not being the most desirable people to be hanging around. Their actions affected my entire life. Had I realized who I was a long time ago, I don't think I would have ever gone down that road.

    So many problems and hangups I've had - much of that changed when I started accepting myself. Living as a woman, I finally feel like a normal person. The person I was before, it doesn't feel like me. I don't identify with the person before transition. Those memories feel like the life of someone else. Someone that I use to know. A person completely removed from myself.

    People see me as I see myself, as a woman. They don't realize I'm trans unless I tell them. If it were not for the unnecessary need to reveal my I.D. that still has my birth name and gender, no one would give it a second thought. This is how things should be. The majority of interactions in my life shouldn't have to the precursor of my gender reveal.

    I didn't realize I couldn't change my name until 2018. I was talking to another trans woman about changing my name. She had also been until prison. She told me she'd sent in her paperwork and it had been pushed back. It never even occurred to me that doing something that affects no one other than myself and my own well-being could even be regulated.

    Not being able to change my name makes it hard to blend into society as a normal person. It's hard enough with a record to apply for a job, but to have to use a name that doesn't match my gender, makes it twice as hard. I can understand having to inform an employer about a criminal record. Having to inform them I'm transgender doesn't have anything to do with how I perform the job or their liability in hiring me, it just creates one more barrier.

    Everyone just need to realize that we are people. These things affect an actual person. You might not even realize you know someone that's trans. If everyone put themselves in the same position, being told you cannot be who you are, safely, you would also find the idea ridiculous. It's something that doesn't affect anybody other than the person being prevented from using a name that identifies who they are. You don't realize how big of a deal a name as an identifier is, until that's not who you are anymore.

    Suit Filed

    On December 4, 2019, attorneys working with Trans Pride Initiative filed suit against the State of Texas challenging the constitutionality of a law that gravely impacts the lives of a highly marginalized segment of the transgender population, those with a conviction history.

    The press release can be accessed in pdf format here. The complaint, as filed (Cause No. 1:19-cv-1182 in U.S. District Court, Western District), may be viewed and downloaded here. Note that the case was refiled on March 16, 2020, and subsequently assigned a new case number 1:20-cv-275.

    From the Suit

    “Much like excessive periods of solitary confinement may generate serious mental health crises even among people with no history of mental health needs, constant misgendering and misnaming will create or exacerbate depression and dysphoria, creating or increasing the likelihood of self-harm or suicide. This is not because being transgender is a mental health condition, but because being misnamed and misgendered is a kind of intense gas-lighting that amounts to psychological torture.”

    Black & Pink Support

    The national headquarters for Black & Pink, along with Executive Director Dominique Morgan, has provided the following quote in support of TPI's suit against the State of Texas.

    “Black and Pink's mission is to abolish the criminal punishment system and to liberate LGBTQIA2S+ people/people living with HIV who are affected by that system, through advocacy, support, and organizing. Black and Pink supports Trans Pride Initiative's Project 103 to End Trans ID Marginalization.”

    “We are proud to have nearly 200 trans-identified incarcerated members in Texas. We know from our members' experiences nationwide that legally changing one's name can be important for many trans and gender non-conforming people. Many have gone to great lengths to file court documents and secure outside legal support and funding to facilitate this process. During incarceration, being referred to by correct names and pronouns can significantly reduce some of the difficulty of attempting to live authentically. Upon release from incarceration, it is paramount that trans and gender non-conforming people are able to present documents as their authentic selves in order to properly seek employment, housing, and services ranging from bank accounts to health care. Denying people this right is sure to increase their risk of failing to integrate back into society and returning to prison.”

    Prisoner Quote (provided by Black & Pink)

    “For the longest time, people were calling me by my former name, and I would ignore them. For a woman of trans experience, a delay in getting a name change can cause mental anguish due to being called a male name which also associates with male pronouns. After I got my legal name change, I wasn't as depressed. I feel more self-respect now. If I were not allowed to change my name before I'm released, I would be upset, outraged, and probably rebellious, due to the fact that they're forcing a gender on me which is incorrect.”
         —Shaylanna L, incarcerated in New York

    Prisoner Quote (provided by Black & Pink)

    “Transitioning, for me was a rebirth, those first breaths of my authentic self. Although transitioning in prison is difficult, being released without the proper identification documents matching our gender identity denies us any chance of being able to participate in society safely and with dignity. The simple act of being pulled over by the police for improperly signalling a lane change, often times leads to embarrassing questions and/or actions not experienced by others whose identification documents match their authentic selves.”
         —Patricia Trimble, incarcerated in Missouri


    How Barriers to Accurate Documents Cause Harm

    When you don't have access to accurate identity documents, and when there are inhumane barriers to acquiring those documents, every aspect of your life may be marginalized.

    For persons struggling to make a stable life after incarceration, these barriers can often be defeating.

    In a truly humane society, access to affirming documentation would be available without medical barriers, without other onerous restrictions that privilege access, and at a reasonable cost.

    Police Interactions

    Early in TPI's history, we tried to address an issue where a Dallas police officer threatened a young trans woman, saying he was going to arrest her for impersonating a woman. She was lucky; a friend defused the situation. Later, even the police LGBT liaison refused to address the complaint.

    Administrative policy and regulations strongly support cisnormative concepts of gender, and the police are the most violent means of enforcing those coerced norms. Trans persons, particularly trans persons of color, often pay dearly through excessive policing, a justice system that tells trans persons they are disposable, disproportionally sentencing them and encouraging plea bargins, and overall social structures that leave us at much greater risk of negative outcomes.

    Affirming documentation won't eliminate police abuses, and all legal names are called up in background checks so gendered names will expose trans identity and abet police violence, but administrative recognition of one's identity can help dissuade some misconduct.

    Everyday Interactions

    Especially now, with the current level of antagonism against trans persons at both the state and federal levels, everyday interactions can be much more trying for trans persons without affirming ID. The problems can range from simple awkward issues when required to present an ID when making certain purchases or paying bills, to "good samaritan" challenges at restrooms.

    Simple everyday interactions that most persons take for granted can become violent for due to rabid transphobia. A Denton County Sheriff candidate threatened to beat any transgender person he might seen entering a gender appropriate restroom. Although accurate identifying documents may not always help in situations like this, made more likely by blustering and irresponsible public officials like candidate Tracy Murphree, they can help.

    These possibilities form part of the everyday fabric of trans existence, greatly increasing anxiety, minority stress, and unnecessarily interfering with one's ability to pursue basic necessities.

    Economic Marginalization

    Even with affirming ID papers, employment can be difficult for trans persons. With documentation that doesn't match your life in our strongly cisnormative society, employment has huge additional hurdles. From an employer's refusal to provide appropriate name tags for store clerks, to professional licensing organizations requiring inappropriate signatures, these issues not only interfere with workplace success, they also out a person as trans every time the trans person is forced to display the inconsistency.

    The above examples assume that one has employment. For those seeking employment, even hints at trans identity on a resume can be cause for discrimination. Nonconforming documentation just makes the job search that much more difficult.

    Healthcare Access

    Being trans is an identity, but it is also a medical condition that is subject to federal privacy standards and professional ethics covering the protection of personal health-related information. Improper identity documentation can cause one's transgender identity to be inadvertently—and sometime purposefully—exposed and increase the risk of mistreatment or even violence.

    As in other situations, nonconforming documentation can also create barriers to accessing healthcare due to what is sometimes called "trans broken arm syndrome." This can have negative effects in a variety of ways, especially when healthcare professionals try to blame even broken arms on their being trans. Transphobia can identify a great variety of ways to marginalize trans persons.

    Sterilization Requirements

    Reducing barriers to identity documentation includes removing requirements for any medical treatment as a condition for updating paperwork. Euphemistically referred to as "irreversible medical treatment," this actually often refers to medical procedures that result in sterility. Meaning the justice system generally requires trans persons to be sterilized in order to update their documentation, a high bar for trans persons who wish to have their own children, and a requirement that should never be forced on anyone.

    It is reprehensible that we continue to have widespread draconian requirements such as sterilization conditions for trans persons to seek conforming identification.

    In Institutional Settings

    Eliminating the two-year restriction in Texas Family Code 45.103 will help reduce barriers to affirming identity documentation, but just this does not go far enough. Institutions like prison systems—and the PIC as a whole—prioritize adherence to heterosexual, cisgender, and monogamous standards that erase the identities and the relationships of queer and trans persons.

    Prison operators often take intentional actions to deny the identity of trans persons, from deliberate use of misgendering, to instructing especially trans women to trade sex for protection, to deliberate indifference that encourages violence against trans and queer persons.

    Gender appropriate recognition within prisons and other institutions won't eliminate violence, but it would be a step toward reducing its pervasiveness.

    Additional Resources

    The following are some additional resources concerning prison abolition and the movement for ending the for-profit justice system.

    • Critical Resistance—working to end the prison industrial complex by challenging the belief that caging people makes anyone safe.
    • Prison Policy Institute—general information on mass incarceration.
    • Black & Pink—prison abolition and prisoner support group working specifically with LGBTQ and HIV-affected persons impacted by imprisonment.
    • Prison Policy Initiative—research organization focusing on exposing the harm of mass criminalization and promoting alternative means of addressing social harm.