FreeState Justice is an LGBTQ+ civil rights advocacy organization that works statewide to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ Marylanders through legal services, policy advocacy, outreach, and education. Our firm belief is that if laws, policies, and institutions work best for those in the LGBTQ+ community most at risk for discrimination, then they will work best for the entire LGBTQ+ community. In this way, we work towards a Maryland where people across the spectrum of sexuality and gender identities are free to live full, authentic lives, with safety and dignity, in every community throughout our state.
In our work, we receive hundreds of requests for assistance each year from LGBTQ+ Marylanders facing discrimination, and provide free legal assistance to hundreds of people and families who could not otherwise afford an attorney. A large portion of our legal work is related to our identity document practice where we help Marylanders obtain name changes, an often monumental piece of their journey to affirm their identities and live full lives with dignity.
In supporting community members through this work, our team has seen first-hand the bureaucratic barriers that many Marylanders face when trying to change their name. Without a doubt, our current law requires major improvements. This past fall, FreeState hosted a number of community listening sessions in partnership with local organizations across the state, and released a statewide LGBTQ+ community needs assessment this winter. Identity document policies surfaced as important community issues in both.
This legislative session in Annapolis, several bills were introduced to attempt to improve the current state of identity documents in Maryland. Many community members, coalition partners and allied organizations—including FreeState supporters, volunteers, and staff members—invested passion, energy, and time in advocating for the issues these bills seek to address. This advocacy included, among other activities, lobby days, testimony, and emails and phone calls to legislators. Of those bills:
Although we are pleased that the legislature has sought to improve the current processes for name changes and very much agree with the intent of HB0083, we have strong concerns about specific provisions in the bill. HB0083 excludes certain groups of minors from the bill’s protections. Minors petitioning for a name change who have sex offender status or prior convictions of a crime charged as an adult would still face the stigmatizing publication requirements. Information about previous convictions is irrelevant to a name change, and a violation of a petitioner’s right to privacy, and unfounded in other similar exemptions in law (e.g. adoption and divorce). A connection between criminality and transgender identity has no place in Maryland law.
Additionally, the bill requires either consent from all parents or guardians of a minor seeking a change of name or that the courts must conduct a lengthy, complex best interest of the child analysis in considering a publication requirement. Current law requires that parents or guardians of a minor be served notices of a petition for name change but does not require affirmative consent. HB0083’s requirements adds a significant burden for minors that does not exist under current law, especially for large number of transgender minors who do not have strong family support, or have unsupportive families, and it actually weakens the existing protections in place for minors seeking name changes.
In addition to concerns about the content of the bill, we worry that, should the bill pass in its present form, it will be difficult if not impossible to fully amend in the future and could hamper future attempts at reform to identity documents law in Maryland for transgender and gender expansive Marylanders of all ages.
FreeState Justice cannot support HB0083 without amendments ameliorating the issues described above. We call on the Senate to amend this legislation and ensure all minors are included in this bill’s protections.
We understand that not all of our community or its allies will agree with this position, especially those in our community who have transgender and gender expansive children who may immediately benefit from the legislation as proposed. This is not a decision we take lightly. We feel and understand the urgency and importance of changing these aspects of Maryland’s ID laws. However, we believe that it is important to ensure that we are advocating for the most vulnerable members in our communities, so that our state laws serve all LGBTQ+ Marylanders regardless of gender identity, age, family circumstances, race, or income. We are committed to continuing to work to accomplish changes to Maryland’s ID laws that will improve the process for all transgender and LGBQ+ Marylanders.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to directly to our Executive Director at the email address below.
Mark Procopio (he/him/his) firstname.lastname@example.org
FreeState Justice’s Testimony on HB0083