Tennessee judge dismisses lawsuit from transgender plaintiffs asking to change sex on birth certificates

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit in which transgender plaintiffs argued that the state of Tennessee should allow them to alter the sex on their birth certificates.

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of transgender plaintiffs asking the state of Tennessee to allow them to change the sex on their birth certificates.

The plaintiffs were looking to overturn a 1977 law that generally does not allow people to alter the sex designation on their birth certificates.

They argue that the law unconstitutionally discriminates against transgender people and that the sex designation on their birth certificates is wrong because it does not accurately correspond with their gender identities.

The lawsuit also claims that the law is harmful because transgender people showing their birth certificates for identification could be subject to possible harassment or violence over the mismatch between the documents and their gender identities.


U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson wrote Thursday in his decision to dismiss the lawsuit that there are varying definitions of the word “sex,” but that the term “has a very narrow and specific meaning” when it comes to birth certificates. The judge said that, in this context, the term means “external genitalia at the time of birth.”

Richardson said the sex designation does not later become inaccurate “when it is eventually understood to diverge from the transgender person’s gender identity.”

The plaintiffs insisted that “sex” should be defined as a person’s gender identity.


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Lambda Legal, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, criticized the judge’s ruling in a statement and said the decision comes as Tennessee Republicans target transgender rights.

GOP state lawmakers are working to ban sex-reassignment surgery for minors, protect teachers who choose not to use transgender students’ preferred pronouns from lawsuits, define “male” and “female” to prevent changes to driver’s licenses and birth certificates and prohibit private schools from allowing students to compete on sports teams that do not correspond with their biological sex.

Richardson wrote that this case “is not grist for a broad-based discussion” about transgender policies but instead is “a discrete legal dispute over the constitutionality of a specific alleged policy” of the state.

Lead plaintiff Kayla Gore said she was devastated by the judge’s ruling that did not allow her and her fellow complainants an opportunity to plead their case.

“Tennessee’s discriminatory birth certificate policy has not only gravely impacted my life, but also presents a roadblock for all transgender Tennesseans,” Gore said in a statement.

In 2019, when the lawsuit was filed, Tennessee, Kansas and Ohio were the only three states that did not allow transgender people to change the sex designation on their birth certificates. Federal courts in Kansas and Ohio have since found those policies unconstitutional.

Other states, including Montana, North Dakota and Oklahoma, have adopted policies similar to Tennessee’s, Lambda Legal said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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