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Transgender People Fight For Right To Change Names In Illinois Despite Felony Convictions

By Yolanda Perdomo, CBS Digital Producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- What's in a name?

We all have one, and for some, changing it becomes necessary.  CBS 2 talked to a woman fighting for the right to change her name despite a past felony conviction.

She has filed a lawsuit that is moving through the court system in Chicago.

Reyna Ortiz, 39, works as a transgender advocate. She was assigned male at birth, but has identified as female since she was 13.

"The first thing when I told my mother, she said: 'I knew since you were three years old. I knew since you were three. I've just been waiting for you to kind of clarify it,'" Ortiz said.

She has gone by Reyna for more than 20 years, but it's not her legal name, and she has an extra roadblock in getting it changed.

"In 2002, I was convicted of identity theft," Ortiz said.

In Illinois, you can petition for a name change and get it in about eight weeks. But if you have a felony conviction, depending on the crime, you may never be able to change your name. Sex crimes and identity theft are among the crimes for which that is the case.

"You just kind of walk around feeling incomplete as a person," Ortiz said.

She's fighting to change that. Reyna is one of eight transgender people suing so all felons can change their names.

"People have already been convicted of a crime," said attorney Avi Rudnick. "Why should they have an extra barrier that is actually creating a public safety issue?"

Rudnick is with the Transformative Justice Law Project. Assigned female at birth, Rudnick now helps other trans people start new lives.

"Allowing people to have a name change not only decreases their exposure to that violence, but gives them an opportunity to actually get a job and get employed, and to not end up in this cycle of poverty and criminalization," Rudnick said.

Undocumented trans Latinx turn to Tania Cordova to get information on life in the U.S. She came from Mexico and was able to change her identity, and it was a monumental event.

"You just feel free. You are living. You are not just existing. I am living life to the fullest," Cordova said.

But she had to wait 10 years, because she was convicted of a felony drug charge. The federal lawsuit is one road to try to change the law.

"They are working so hard to be a productive member of society," Cordova said.

Ortiz said it is not just about her.

"It impacts a large portion of my community," she asid.

Next year, advocates plan to lobby state lawmakers in Springfield to amend an Illinois statute to let people change their names despite their felony conviction.

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