Legal Status 

Q&A: Kayla Gore, lead plaintiff in lawsuit against Tennessee

Four transgender Tennesseans sued the state last week to challenge a law prohibiting them from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates.

The case was filed by Lambda Legal, a national advocacy group working for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and those with HIV. A lead plaintiff in the case is Kayla Gore, 33, of Memphis.

Tennessee is one of only three states, including Kansas and Ohio, that bars citizens from changing their gender on their birth certificate.

Gore told us that having incorrect information on her birth certificate has had real-world consequences and, more simply, "everyone should be respected for who they are." — Toby Sells

click to enlarge Gore speaking in Nashville last week. - LAMBDA LEGAL
  • Lambda Legal
  • Gore speaking in Nashville last week.

Memphis Flyer: How did you get involved in this lawsuit?

Kayla Gore: My birth certificate is the only identity document that is inconsistent with who I am, and I have been waiting a long time to be able to correct it.

Working in Tennessee, assisting other transgender people to correct their identity documents, including their name and gender, also made me want to get involved. Constantly telling transgender people born in Tennessee they couldn't correct their birth certificate is not something I want to keep saying to people.

I'd reached out to national organizations to see if these corrections could be possible, but Tennessee has completely prohibited them, unlike pretty much every other state. Once Lambda Legal contacted me about the possibility to sue our governor and the state of Tennessee in order to make it possible, I had to get involved.

MF: What is it like having the incorrect gender on your official documents? How does it make you feel?

KG: Not having a birth certificate that reflects my true gender makes me feel incomplete. It is a constant reminder that the state of Tennessee does not acknowledge me for who I am.

MF: Can you give me an example of how having the incorrect gender on those documents has affected you in a real-world way?

KG: Not having an accurate birth certificate caused me to have awkward and invasive conversations about my transgender status with prospective employers, as well as dissuaded me at times from applying to other jobs.

It has also made entering school an even harder experience. Going through the process of correcting your records with the federal government, student loan officers, and, then, my old college delayed my registration date for school.

Having to expose my transgender status to strangers over the phone caused problems, and I had to explain why my birth certificate says male but my Tennessee identification card says female. These agencies treated me as if I was lying about who I was, because my identity documents didn't match up.

MF: What would you say to someone who thinks we don't need to change these policies?

KG: Everyone should be respected for who they are. We, as transgender and gender nonconforming people, are entitled to take autonomy over our own lives and be able to have identity documents consistent with who we are, just as everybody else does. This includes our Tennessee birth certificates.

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