HARRISBURG – Lawyers from Reed Smith today filed a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of three transgender women who live openly in accordance with their female gender but who are being forced to use male legal names due to old felony convictions.
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The petitioners are Philadelphia resident Alonda Talley and Allegheny County residents Chauntey Mo’Nique Porter and Priscylla Renee Von Noaker. The women are represented pro bono in the matter by a Reed Smith multi-office team of Luke E. Debevec, Matthew D. Rosso, and Christian W. Saucedo in Philadelphia; M. Patrick Yingling in Chicago; James C. Martin, Gregory D. Vose, and Zachary S. Roman in Pittsburgh; and Todd S. Kim in Washington, D.C.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of State, and the Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar are named as respondents.

The legal challenge contends that Pennsylvania’s “irrebuttable conviction bar” is unconstitutional. A 1998 legislative amendment aimed at combatting fraud by those attempting to avoid financial obligations precludes anyone convicted of a felony from obtaining a name change for two years after their sentence has been completed, and bars anyone convicted of a serious felony from ever obtaining a name change – no matter how much time has elapsed since their conviction and no matter the reason for the change.

“The right to control one’s name and self-identity is a fundamental right, as is the right to avoid disclosure of sensitive personal matters,” said Debevec. “A person ought to be able to obtain a name change to match their gender. Prohibiting a person from changing their name compels a person to speak or to refrain from speaking in unbearable ways daily. For the Commonwealth to foreclose any way to prove a legitimate purpose for a name change violates the rights enshrined in our constitution. The outcome of this petition will affect all individuals across the state in similar circumstances who seek to change their name.”