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Case seeking transgender woman’s right to change her name and obtain proper identification


Frances Mary Fischer, a transgender woman who began her transition in the 1980s, wanted to take everyday steps like getting new credit cards and charge accounts that matched her identity. But in 2002, when she tried to legally change her name through a Syracuse, New York court, a judge denied the request because she hadn’t yet undergone full genital reassignment surgery — a medical standard that is not imposed on others seeking name changes. Lambda Legal intervened in the name change petition and prevailed on Frances’ behalf. In 2003, a judge granted her name change, allowing her to obtain accurate identification like anyone else.


For transgender people, denial of access to legal name changes and accurate identification documents can be both humiliating and debilitating. Improper identification can put personal safety at risk, jeopardize access to services like health care and lead to serious employment difficulties. Governments and courts must refrain from imposing heightened evidence requirements on transgender people, and should recognize that transgender people need fair access to name changes and accurate identification in order to live their lives.

Lambda Legal’s Impact

This case marks another example of Lambda Legal’s efforts to assert and secure the rights of transgender people. In the wake of this decision, the organization continues to advocate for better policies regarding gender designation changes on government-issued identification. For example, in 2006, our attorneys testified before the New York City Council in favor of a fairer policy for changing the sex designation on birth certificates. Our testimony described the large number of calls our Help Desk receives every year from transgender individuals who are unable to obtain proper identification.

    • 2002 A Syracuse, New York judge denies Frances Mary Fischer’s name change request.
    • 2003 Lambda Legal intervenes on Fischer’s belhalf and a judge grants her name change request.