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Transgender Pennsylvania Women With Felony Past Fight Name Change Rules

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Transgender women in Pennsylvania are trying again Monday to knock down state rules that govern legal name changes for people with felony records.

The state requires them to wait two years after completing their sentence to apply for a name change. People who have committed the most serious felonies, including rape and murder, are barred from changing their legal names. The 1998 rules are meant to enhance public safety and thwart fraud attempts.

However, advocates say the transgender community simply wants the right to use names that match their identities rather than their dead or given names. Gabriel Arkles, senior counsel of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said his clients risk being harassed if they apply for jobs, or are stopped by police, and show identification that doesn't match their gender identities.

"For the people it affects, it has such a profound affect," Arkles said. “Our clients are transgender people who are just trying to live their lives and are not trying to commit any fraud.”

Similar efforts have been underway in other states, with varying degrees of success, he said.

Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court, which handles cases involving state agencies, dismissed a related lawsuit last year on procedural grounds without addressing the underlying constitutional claims.

This time, rather than file suit against the state, the three plaintiffs were petitioning Monday for legal name changes. They include two of the three women involved in last year's lawsuit, plus one new petitioner.

Chauntey Mo’Nique Porter, who has a 2008 aggravated assault conviction, has been involved in both efforts.

“Every time I need to show my ID for any reason or go on a job interview, I am forced to explain who I am and why my name on my ID is different from my true name — Chauntey," Porter, 42, of Pittsburgh, said in a statement. "This puts me in danger, causes me to lose opportunities, and doesn’t allow me to live fully as myself.”

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