COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A majority of states allow transgender Americans to correct the sex marker on their birth certificate. However, in Ohio, that process is contingent on how certain judges interpret the law. 

Ohio was one of just two states that did not allow trans people to correct the sex on their birth certificate until a 2020 federal court ruling found the state’s ban on birth certificate gender changes was unconstitutional. A procedure for trans Ohioans to correct their certificate was established by the Ohio Department of Health in 2021.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said the department’s process empowers and enhances the ability of trans Ohioans to safely live their lives.

“A birth certificate is more than a piece of paper,” said the ACLU. “It allows a person to be seen as they truly are. A lack of proper identification contributes to the pervasive discrimination that transgender individuals often face.”

What is the process? 

The ODH uses the same process for trans people to change their sex marker as it uses for other corrections to Ohio birth certificates. Applicants need to request a “court-ordered correction of a birth record” using a form issued by any one of Ohio’s 88 probate courts, one in each county.

The procedure is free and can be completed by anyone born in Ohio, even if the applicant is now living in another state. However, each court may have varying rules and require different documentation. 

In Franklin County, applicants need to fill out this form and deliver it to the county’s probate court at 373 S. High St. Hamilton County applicants need to complete this form and present a letter from a health professional verifying “transgender status.” A similar process is required in Cuyahoga County using this form.

Once the form is received, the changes may take anywhere from four weeks to four months to be processed. The old certificate will be sealed in a vault only accessible to the applicant and the ODH will issue a new certificate with no bearing evidence of a change being made. 

However, many trans Ohioans can still face hurdles once the application has been received, especially from judges resistant to issuing corrections. In 2021, a Clark County Probate Court denied a correction to a transgender woman named Hailey Adelaide, arguing that it didn’t have the authority.

The court said the initial recording of Adelaide’s marker at birth was not made in error and “found there was nothing to be corrected,” documents show.

“All evidence suggests that Adelaide was born in a hospital wherein the information for her birth certificate was prepared, completed, certified, and filed according to the applicable statutes,” the ruling states. “There is no allegation that the above-described process was done in error.”

Adelaide appealed the ruling in August, sending the case to the Ohio Supreme Court. 

‘Forced disclosure’ 

Trans Ohioans were denied the ability to seek changes to their birth certificate until the ACLU in conjunction with Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit in 2018 against the ODH. Plaintiffs Stacie Ray, Ashley Breda, and Basil Argento argued the state’s ban compromised safety and could lead to future bodily harm. 

Ray recalled when she started a job and was required to show her birth certificate to a room of 10-15 new colleagues. Ray was questioned why the gender on her birth certificate and driver’s license did not match. 

“Ray’s forced disclosure caused her to both experience threats and have her intimate personal information revealed,” court documents said. “Ray’s co-workers harassed her as a result of this forced disclosure – they called her a ‘freak,’ and one co-worker threatened to ‘beat [her] ass’ if she used a women’s restroom.” 

Breda also had to present her birth certificate to an employer and was verbally harassed. Breda was told she would “never be a woman” and that she would “always be a man in God’s eyes,” documents show.

Argento testified that the forced disclosure of private information like being transgender left a psychological toll.

“It’s a lot of time dehumanizing because I’m telling something very personal about myself that I don’t want to be telling a stranger,” he said.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled in Ray’s favor in December 2020. The ruling cites a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality that found 36% of respondents in Ohio who have an ID with a name of gender that does not match their gender presentation have been “verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave or assaulted.”

“Forced disclosure of a transgender individual’s status as transgender was highly personal sexual information that was protected by the due process clause’s informational right to privacy,” the ruling states. “The excruciatingly private and intimate nature of being transgender, for persons who wish to preserve privacy in the matter, is really beyond debate.”

Learn more about birth record corrections from the Department of Health here.