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    New York Times: For Transgender People, Name Is a Message

    The New York Times has an interesting story about the problems transgender people face, including privacy issues, when trying to change their names.

    Changing a name might seem like a minor matter for those who are changing their gender identities and, for some, facing challenges like finding knowledgeable doctors, trying hormones and experimenting with painful hair-removal procedures. But many who have gone through the switch say a name change sends an important message to the world, a message solidified and made official with a court’s approval.

    In many courts around the country, what were once risky or shocking name-change requests are becoming more routine as the sting of gender taboo has lost a little of its edge. But in few places has this shift been more dramatic than in New York, where two recent and little-noticed rulings helped clarify the murky area not only of the law but also of modern gender identification. They have contributed to Manhattan’s becoming a capital of Joe-to-Jane proceedings. A rare network of some 200 lawyers now works on such cases filed in the Centre Street courthouse, and nearly 400 of their transgender clients so far have, more or less, become someone else. […]

    Efforts to extend legal rights to transgender people have increasingly been in the news, including the December announcement by Gov. David A. Paterson of New York to extend antidiscrimination protections to transgender state employees. […]

    The two recent rulings in New York courts helped clear the way for more such moments on Centre Street.

    In one case, an appeals panel overruled a Manhattan civil court judge who had insisted on doctors’ notes giving reasons for name changes in transgender cases. The panel said there was “no sound basis in law or policy” for the requirement and noted that the law generally permits people to change their names unless there is some fraudulent intent involved.

    In the other decision, a Westchester judge made an exception to a general requirement that name changes and home addresses be advertised in newspapers, saying the safety issues for people in gender transition were obvious in a world that can be hostile.

    The publication requirement insisted upon by some of the Manhattan judges has fed an eerie subculture of readers, many of them prisoners, who follow the newspaper notices. One man forced to advertise that he was becoming a woman received several seductive letters with prison return addresses.

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