Lawmakers to seek easier name-change process for LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians

HARRISBURG, Jan. 20 – Members of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus are introducing legislation that would destigmatize and create a safer and easier name-change process for LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians, especially transgender, non-binary and gender expansive people in the commonwealth.

The Pennsylvania LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus is a bipartisan and bicameral caucus made up of members of the General Assembly whose mission is to advocate for equality for LGBTQ+ communities across Pennsylvania. Reps. Brian Sims, D-Phila., Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, and Sen. Katie Muth, D-Berks/Chester/Montgomery, are co-chairs of the caucus.

Spurred by a Pennsylvania Senate Policy Committee hearing on the barriers in Pennsylvania for the transgender community in June 2021, members of the caucus worked with stakeholders to draft six key pieces of legislation to update Pennsylvania’s antiquated name change process and provide funding and safeguards for those seeking to change their name.

The legislative package is being co-authored by Frankel and Muth, Reps. Nancy Guenst, D-Montgomery/Phila., Emily Kinkead, D-Allegheny, Ben Sanchez, D-Montgomery, Melissa Shusterman, D-Montgomery, and Joe Webster, D-Montgomery; and state Sens. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware/Montgomery, Tim Kearney, D-Chester/Delaware, and Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny. Co-sponsorship memorandums have been circulated and the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus is calling on their colleagues in both chambers to sign onto these important bills before they’re formally introduced.

Frankel noted that the name change package would help all kinds of people to avoid an unnecessarily complicated and costly process, but it would be especially meaningful to the gender-diverse people of Pennsylvania.

“There are countless ways that navigating the world as a transgender person can be difficult and even painful,” Frankel said. “The more that we can remove those unnecessary obstacles to living authentically, the better.”

“Pennsylvania 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. I am proud to work with my colleagues Senator Cappelletti, Senator Kearney and Senator Lindsey Williams on this important issue in the Senate.”

“It’s time that we cut the red tape for trans and non-binary Pennsylvanians who should be able to live as their true selves in all facets of life,” Sims said. “This is a health and safety issue not only for LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians, but also for victims of abuse, the formerly incarcerated trying to rebuild a life and anyone without the means to navigate the arduous name change process.”

Bills in the “Name-Change” package would:

  • Create a new, administrative name-change process: This bill would replace the antiquated judicial name change process in Pennsylvania with a simple administrative process that improves efficiency while ensuring due process for all interested parties. The legislators said the current process for legally changing one’s name is expensive, time-consuming, and fraught with danger for members of Pennsylvania’s transgender community. 

“Shifting the name change procedures in Pennsylvania from the antiquated judicial process to an administrative process will streamline this arduous task from beginning to end, while also ensuring efficiency, as well as added identity protections for the applicant,” Webster said. “In addition to being expensive and time consuming, the current name-changing mechanisms unfairly discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community. I look forward to the conversations with my colleagues as we work to address these issues through legislative action.”

“Presently, anyone seeking a legal name change in Pennsylvania must appear in court, publicly advertise their intentions, and pay $500,” Kinkead said. “This wastes time, money and court resources, while possibly endangering our trans neighbors. This administration name change reform is common sense, and it serves justice.”

"I’m glad to be working with my colleagues to remove the barriers that transgender Pennsylvanians face when changing their names,” Cappelletti said. “This system has long been outdated and includes excessive, harmful requirements that waste time and put people at risk who are seeking to change their name. We must pass this legislation and make it easier for all Pennsylvanians to live as their authentic selves."

  • Require new PA-issued birth certificates to no longer include sex designation: This legislation would fix this issue by simply removing sex from birth certificates altogether. Sex would still be reported on the U.S. Standard Certificate of Live Birth system, which is used for medical and statistical data collection.

“The current name change process in Pennsylvania is antiquated and can be traumatic for our transgender constituents, and we are long overdue on updating the process to bring it into the 21st century,” Sanchez said. “The transgender community experiences discrimination constantly; their commonwealth should not be the source of one of those experiences.”

Webster agreed, adding, “Removing sex designations on Pennsylvania birth certificates will protect the privacy of the individual requesting this vital document, while also preventing discrimination. Everyone experiences gender differently and recording it on a government document only causes further discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ+ community. This is furthered by The American Medical Association’s recent recommendation that gender be removed from birth certificates to prevent the many problems transgender and gender non-conforming individuals face by having a different gender identity on this foundational document.”

  • Eliminate the publication requirement and make automatic sealing of records the default: This legislation would address publication requirements and seal court records for name change proceedings. According to the legislators, this would be an important step forward to ensure that all Pennsylvanians face fewer obstacles when changing their legal name. It is also a necessary adjustment to our laws to better protect transgender, non-binary, and gender expansive Pennsylvanians.

“Not having identification that affirms one's identity can be a trigger for discrimination, mistreatment and violence against trans individuals,” Kearney said. “The process of legally changing your name to match your identity is arduous and unnecessarily public, without adding value. I believe it is imperative that we ensure all Pennsylvanians have the resources they need to live their lives as their authentic selves - safely and without bias, prejudice, or bureaucratic obstacles."

“I firmly believe that the law should be changed to protect individual privacy and prevent discrimination by eliminating the publication requirement and make automatic sealing of records the default,” Guenst said.

  • Provide Transgender Name Change Assistance Grants: This legislation would help transgender individuals address their unique challenges when going through the process of changing their names by establishing a grant program for organizations that provide guidance and assistance to these individuals navigating this process.

The lawmakers said transgender individuals are faced with discrimination and harassment that is exacerbated by the additional burdens of obtaining legal documents that reflect their identities. Beyond the emotional impact on an individual for not being able to legally identify as themselves, transgender individuals face difficulties traveling, registering for school, and accessing many services that require documentation.

“When a person chooses to live a more authentic life and go through the courageous act of changing their name, they are often face with discrimination and harassment,” Shusterman said. “We as a commonwealth need to address the barriers transgender individuals face and make the process easier for them and not challenging. This is why I support legislation that would create a grant program for organizations that help transgender individuals through this process.”

  • Require publicly available information on the name change process, a dedicated safe point of contact, and training: This legislation would replace the antiquated judicial name change process in Pennsylvania with a simpler, more streamlined, and largely administrative process. The current process for legally changing one’s name is expensive, time-consuming, and fraught with danger for members of Pennsylvania’s transgender community.

“I’ve heard from constituents and members of my own staff about how arduous the name change process is for non-binary and transgender individuals,” Williams said. “We’ve already simplified this process for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who change their names every year for marriage and divorce; there is no reason to cling to this antiquated process for a small subset of individuals. The world around us no longer relies on newspaper publication or complicated legal transactions to find name changes because the vast majority of name changes simply don’t include these procedures. It’s time that we streamline and update the process of obtaining identity-affirming documentation for everyone.”

  • Eliminate the two-year waiting period for people with felony convictions (this legislation soon will be circulated for sponsors).

Kinkead said: “Names are inherent to our identities. Placing legal, financial and time barriers for trans people to claim their identities only serves to further burden a group that already faces tremendous odds at every level of our society.”