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Illinois poised to lift restrictions on felons who want to legally change their names

Jeremy Gorner, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — Reyna Ortiz hopes that one day soon she will be able to show her ID when required without creating confusion because the card has a man’s name on it.

A transgender woman, Ortiz has attempted to legally change her name to match her female identity but has been unable to do so because of an Illinois law that prevents name changes by anyone convicted of identity theft.

Ortiz was convicted on that charge about 20 years ago after she says she committed fraud in an effort to pay for gender-affirming surgery.

Legislation now on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk would loosen restrictions for people with past felony convictions who want to legally change their names. The measure passed in the Illinois Senate during the lame-duck session earlier this month, with five Democrats voting no, after being approved with bipartisan support in the House in 2021.

A sometimes contentious debate preceded the Jan. 10 vote in the Senate, with opponents arguing the bill would allow felons to escape scrutiny and commit more crimes.

Supporters countered that the measure is intended to protect victims of human trafficking, as well as help those in the transgender community like Ortiz.


“Every time I pull my ID out people are like, ‘you’re a man?’ I’m a woman. I live as a woman. I look like a woman. I’m a transgender woman,” said Ortiz, 42, who lives in Chicago’s western suburbs. “There’s so many trans women walking around with IDs that don’t match their gender identity and that opens us up to various degrees of systemic discrimination.”

Illinois residents are already allowed to put the gender they identify with on IDs issued through the secretary of state’s office, a spokesman said.

The bill removes a lifetime ban on name changes for people who have been convicted of identity theft, as well as for those on state registries for convictions on offenses including murder, arson and various sex crimes. For all other felonies, the bill lifts a 10-year waiting period from the completion of a sentence for people to change their names.

Judges would have ultimate say over approving name changes for people convicted of felonies that had been subject to the lifetime ban, and the measure would allow county prosecutors to object to those name-change petitions. In those cases, the petitioners would have to convince judges that they want to change their name because they’re transgender, were victims of human trafficking, for religious reasons or because they got married.


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