NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of Tennessee-born transgender plaintiffs hoping to compel the state to let them change the sex designations on their birth certificates.
The plaintiffs had sought to overturn a 1977 law that generally prohibits such changes. They said it unconstitutionally discriminates against transgender people and the sex designation on their certificates is inaccurate because it does not reflect their gender identities.
The lawsuit also argued that the policy is harmful, saying that when transgender people show their birth certificates for identification, the mismatch between the documents and their gender identities exposes them to possible harassment and even violence.
U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson wrote in his decision to dismiss that while there are varying definitions of “sex,” the term “has a very narrow and specific meaning” for the purpose of birth certificates: “external genitalia at the time of birth.”
Based on that limited definition, the designation does not later become inaccurate “when it is eventually understood to diverge from the transgender person’s gender identity,” Richardson said.
The plaintiffs had argued that “sex” should be defined by gender identity.
Lambda Legal, which brought the lawsuit on their behalf, criticized the ruling in a statement and said it was evaluating possible next steps. It said the decision comes as Tennessee’s Republican supermajority is targeting transgender rights.
Such efforts include banning gender-affirming care for minors; protecting teachers who don’t use transgender students' pronouns from lawsuits; definining “male” and “female” in a way that prevents driver’s licenses and birth certificate changes; and banning private schools from letting transgender girls compete on female sports teams.
Richardson sought to sidestep politics in his decision, writing that the case “is not grist for a broad-based discussion” about transgender rights but rather “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 ruling denying her and her fellow complainants an opportunity to even 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,” she said in a statement.
When the suit was filed in 2019, Tennessee was one of three states that did not let transgender people change the sex designation on their birth certificates. Since then, federal courts in the other two, Kansas and Ohio, have found those policies unconstitutional.
Meanwhile states including Montana, North Dakota and Oklahoma have adopted policies like Tennessee's, according to Lambda Legal.