At 32, Reyna Ortiz walked out of the Daley Center and crossed the street to a small restaurant. She huddled in a corner and started to cry – she was just told she couldn’t legally change her name due to a felony conviction.
Ortiz, a transgender woman and activist born and raised in Cicero, began her transition at the age of 14. “I didn’t know what the word trans was, I just knew I wasn’t what society considered a boy.”
Although her family was very supportive of her, she faced extreme poverty and other sources of ignorance that led Ortiz to become a sex worker at just sixteen. When she graduated from high school, she was still involved in sex work as a means of survival.
“The term people use now is ‘sex work,’ but in the 90s that wasn’t an option – you were a prostitute,” Ortiz said.
Another way Ortiz tried to lift himself out of systemic poverty was through identity theft. Twenty years ago, when she was 21, she was convicted of identity theft and fraud.
Seven years after his conviction, Ortiz attempted to file a petition with Cook County Circuit Court for change his name. She learned of a ten-year waiting period for those convicted of crimes to request a name change.
She waited a few more years and then went to start the process. Even though she had waited over a decade, there was a new barrier – there is a lifetime ban on those convicted of identity theft in Illinois.
“Once again, I felt alone in this system,” Ortiz said, recalling the day she left the Daley Center with the news. “I feel like the system works against trans people and doesn’t understand the trans experience. We are continually being punished for our identity and that’s when I realized that the chances that I could walk around town with a name that matches my identity were next to zero. “
All residents convicted of felony have to wait ten years to appear before a judge and apply for an order legally changing their name, and for those convicted of certain crimes like Ortiz, they never get the chance.
A bill currently in the Illinois Senate could change that.
The bill, known as HB2542, would bring Illinois law in line with the majority of other states with a myriad of changes, including removing the ten-year waiting period for those convicted of felony and the life ban for those convicted of theft identity; and expand access to the waiver process and streamline the process with a standardized statewide petition.
Elizabeth Ricks, staff lawyer for the TransLife Care program at Chicago Home and Social Services Agency, worked on the bill alongside Representative Kelly Cassidy (D – 14th arrondissement), the main sponsor of the bill. Ortiz has also been a vocal activist for a bill.
“We [Illinois] are a major outlier in many ways, ”Ricks said. “It’s a matter of life and death for people, and I don’t know if people understand it.”
Having corresponding names on documents is vital for the safety of residents and issues of housing, loans, job applications, education, health care, etc.
Currently, the process for someone to change their name in Illinois begins with a name change form, signing a witness, attending an in-person hearing, and ends with a judge making an order granting or rejecting the request. The law also requires that a notice of a name change hearing be published in a newspaper for three consecutive weeks.
If the new bill were to pass, the process would be much simpler. The witness’s signature would be removed and more residents could request a waiver of the publication requirement, providing increased security for transgender and heterosexual people who do not want to be disclosed.
“It’s a learning curve for people,” she said. “People need to understand the circumstances people find themselves in and what the bill really means. It’s just about giving people the same opportunities to champion their cause as anyone else. “
Cassidy has been working on making these changes to the law for about four years in the House thanks to this current bill and previous drafts that were not passed by both houses for a number of reasons. This current bill was passed by the House but is currently blocked in the Senate.
Representative Cassidy has felt repelled by more conservative members of the Senate who worry about those with a history of sex crimes. Sex crimes are often defined as other violent crimes, and human trafficking and sex work are generally not prohibited, but sex workers are often targeted in other ways.
“If anyone really understands the trans experience in the eighties and nineties and early 2000s, fraud was equal to sex work in our survival experiences,” Ortiz said speaking. of his crime. “I believe they added this factor to the bill to impact trans women and especially trans women of color.”
Like Ortiz, many transgender women were forced into sex work just to survive and are now seen as sexual predators, but their situations were circumstantial and often their only option.
If he goes through the Senate in the next session, she and others asking for a name change will still have crimes on their record and their names given at birth will be visible in their criminal history records, but their legal name will ultimately reflect who they really are.
“To be honest, that means everything to me,” Ortiz said, speaking of the possibility of a legal name change. “The [amendment] from the law does not remove our crimes; we don’t clean our entire background. My old name will always be linked to my fingerprint somewhere. We just want to be able to change our names.
Featured Image By Mateus Campos Felipe
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