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Lambda Legal Sues Oklahoma Over Its Anti-Trans Birth Certificate Policy

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March 14, 2022
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Today, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s executive order prohibiting transgender people born in Oklahoma from correcting the gender marker on their birth certificates to match their gender identity.

On November 8, 2021, Governor Stitt issued an executive order that reversed the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH)’s prior practice of allowing transgender people to correct their birth certificates to match their gender identity. Previously, transgender people could correct their birth certificates by presenting a court order to OSDH, but following the executive order, OSDH has refused to comply with such orders.   

“Gov. Stitt’s executive order deprives transgender people born in Oklahoma of equal treatment under the law. Other people have access to birth certificates that match who they are, but the government has singled out transgender people to take away their ability to access birth certificates that match who they are,” Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Shelly Skeen said. “Inaccurate identity documents rob transgender people of control over their privacy by involuntarily outing’ them to others. 

"Oklahoma’s policy wrongfully exposes transgender people to discrimination and harm when accessing housing, employment, education, healthcare, and public accommodations. Transgender people have the right, like everyone else, to keep their private matters private and to be treated equally in society, as who they are, without fear of discrimination,” Skeen said.

Attorney and Tyron Garner Fellow Nicholas Guillory, who is also working on the case, said: “In Oklahoma, 25% of transgender people live in poverty.  Having accurate birth certificates that match who they are is critically important to combat the barriers and inequities they face in their daily lives.”

Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, on behalf of a transgender woman, Rowan Fowler, and two transgender men, Allister Hall and a plaintiff proceeding anonymously, C.R.

In the lawsuit, Fowler et al. v. Stitt et al., Lambda Legal argues that denying transgender people the ability to obtain accurate birth certificates subjects them to discrimination, deprives them of their dignity and invades their rights to privacy in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit also argues that forcing transgender people to identify with a gender that does not align with their gender identity violates their free speech rights under the First Amendment.

“Having a birth certificate that reflects who I am as a human being is crucial and can present a basic issue of safety for me,” said plaintiff Rowan Fowler, who is a transgender woman. “The state’s denial of my existence is discriminatory and puts me in harm’s way. There was no reason for Oklahoma to take away this basic tool that transgender people need to simply go about their everyday lives with dignity, safety, and respect.”

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, almost one-third of transgender individuals who showed an identity document with a name or gender marker that conflicted with their perceived gender were harassed, denied benefits and services, discriminated against or assaulted.  At least 47 states have systems in place that allow transgender people to correct their birth certificates to match their gender identity.

Handling the case on behalf of Lambda Legal is Senior Attorney Shelly L. Skeen, Senior Counsel Peter Renn, and Tyron Garner Fellow Nicholas Guillory.  They are joined by Tulsa attorney Karen Keith Wilkins.