Your wedding day is supposed to be one of the most joyous days of your life, but for Basil Argento, his marital bliss was interrupted by bigotry.
When Argento and his husband got married in October, they went to Buffalo for the ceremony. Although the pair live in Ohio, his partner’s family calls upstate New York home. On the day they were set to tie the knot, though, Argento ran into a major hitch: Under New York state law, individuals must present a birth certificate in order to get married.
Because Ohio doesn’t allow trans people to correct those materials, Argento’s paperwork lists the gender he was assigned at birth, as well as his former name.
Argento says that when officials discovered that his birth certificate didn’t match his other documentationwhich has been updated to reflect his correct name and pronounthe mood immediately changed. They became “rude” and “nasty” toward Argento and his partner.
“We can’t do anything for you,” they curtly informed the couple.
“We weren’t sure if we were going to actually be able to get married,” Argento tells INTO over the phone. “Any other person wouldn’t have had to worry about that. But in my case, I expect problems. The default is you’re going to have problems when dealing with government officials.”
The pair were able to get married that day after a friend informed them that Niagara Falls doesn’t enforce New York’s birth certificate policy because of the influx of tourists to the city.
But Argento wants to make sure no other transgender Ohioan has to face the same issue.
He is one of four plaintiffs who have signed onto a lawsuit challenging Ohio’s birth certificate policy on grounds that it makes trans people vulnerable to discrimination. Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit against the Ohio Department of Health on Thursday.
In court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, the groups claim there is “no government justification” to support the refusal of corrected birth certificates to trans people.
“Ohio’s refusal to issue such birth certificates erects a barrier to the full recognition, participation, and inclusion of transgender people in society and subjects them to discrimination, privacy invasions, harassment, humiliation, stigma, harm to their health, and even violence,” the advocacy organizations say.
Stacie Ray, another plaintiff who joined the case, understands this problem all too well.
A truck driver who lives in Columbus, Ray was outed during the orientation process for a new job two years ago. When her driver’s license didn’t match the gender listed on her birth certificate, the HR representative at the company announced that fact loudly to the other new hires.
The experience wasn’t just “embarrassing,” Ray claims. It made her vulnerable to bullying and harassment from her colleagues.
A female coworker threatened to assault Ray if she ever saw her out in public and also warned her not to use the ladies’ restroom at work. “If I ever catch you in the women’s bathroom, I’m going to beat your ass,” the woman said.
“Every time I use my birth certificate, I have to go through this spiel of who I am and why it says this,” Ray tells INTO over the phone.
At the time of writing, Ohio is just one of three statesalong with Kansas and Tennesseewhich expose trans individuals to prejudice by blocking them from updating their birth certificates. As of next month, transgender people will be allowed to correct their documents in Idaho for the first time following a successful lawsuit.
Attorneys with Lambda Legal note that Ohio’s policies are both harmful and inconsistent. Trans people are allowed to change their gender marker on driver’s licenses, passports, social security cards, and state IDs.
“When people like our clients can correct their driver’s licenses and marriage licenses but are prevented from correcting their birth certificates, it is like painting the walls and fixing the roof on a house with a cracked foundation,” says Lambda Legal Law Fellow Kara Inglehart in a statement to INTO. “Birth certificates are one of the primary documents that says who we are.”
Advocates note this wasn’t always the case in Ohio. Until a decade ago, the state allowed trans people access to updated birth certificates but abruptly changed course.
The Department of Health has yet to comment on the reasons for that decision.
Ray says this reversal is extremely invalidatingdepriving her of the ability to be seen for her true self. When her birth certificate is revealed to have a man’s name on it, others often treat her like a criminal, as if she’s using an assumed identity to hide from law enforcement.
“It doesn’t make me feel whole,” she says. “It lets me know that even though I’m working hard to become the person I identify as and feel I am, I’m still not complete without it.”
Both Ray and Argento have fought tirelessly to be accepted for who they are, even despite the costs.
Argento filed for dual citizenship under Italy’s “Law of the Blood” policy, which allows those who claim Italian heritage to be recognized as citizens. Because his birth certificate hasn’t been corrected, the process took three years and cost him thousands of dollars.
If Ohio allowed him to update those materials, it would have been over in a matter of months.
“It’s the right of all people to have birth certificates that reflect who they are,” Argento says. “Documents are supposed to be used by a living person. It’s not just a piece of paper. People use it to live their lives.”
Two other plaintiffs, Ashley Breda and Jane Doe, have signed onto the case. They were unavailable for comment prior to publication.