How do I change my name and gender marker? A guide to Illinois’ system for the LGBTQ+ community

This explainer is part of our Pride Stories series, a collection of essays exploring queer experiences in Chicago. Read more stories here or submit your own.

For members of the LGBTQ+ community, changing your name and gender markers can mean better quality of life and even safety. At least in Illinois, the process for going through those changes has gotten slightly easier.

In 2019, legislation out of the statehouse paved the way for the state to add an “X” gender marker to designate a nonbinary identity, or one that doesn’t fall under male or female.

Last year the state made it so that people can choose the gender on their birth certificate without medical documentation. A way to reduce costs for name changes, which currently can exceed several hundred dollars, is also in the works.

While politicians debate on how to streamline the process further, here’s a guide on how to change one’s name and gender marker on a variety of legal documents.

Why does changing a name or gender marker matter?

Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Lambda Legal, said not having an ID that matches one’s identity can “chill” aspects of public life, such as voting or going out to bars, because they require an ID.

Additionally, people who have IDs that don’t match them can be put in danger: 22% of the more than 92,000 respondents to the 2022 U.S. Trans Survey reported being verbally harassed, assaulted, asked to leave or denied services when they presented an ID with a name or gender that didn’t match their presentation.

“It’s well worth the red tape,” Buchert, who is trans, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “You pull out your ID constantly. A lot of people don’t think about it, but for trans folks it’s an enormous dilemma of people putting on heightened scrutiny based on your appearance.”

Ultimately, the government isn’t the determinate of anyone’s identity, she said, but there’s a “dignity aspect” to having documents that match one’s identity.

“The state can’t give or take away who you are,” Buchert said. “But it certainly is nice to have a gender marker that reflects who you are.”

How do I change my gender marker?

As of July 2023, Illinois has a “self attestation system” for gender markers, meaning you don’t need proof of hormone replacement therapy, gender-affirming surgery or a name change. Anyone interested just needs a current Illinois driver’s license, ID or a document from each of the categories outlined in the online Secretary of State guide.

There is a fee: $5 for a driver’s license or $10 for a state ID. Additionally, a form must be filled out and brought to an Illinois Secretary of State facility for processing and a new ID.

There aren’t any medical documentation requirements for passport gender marker changes either, though name changes for state ID cards and passports are different. More on that below.

However, to change gender markers on documents for other states, there may be extra hoops to jump through. That’s a good excuse to get an up-to-date Illinois ID, especially if you don’t yet have a REAL ID, which will be required to board domestic flights starting in May 2025.

How do I change my name?

The first step to changing your name is getting a name change order, which in Illinois requires proof of residency like a mailed bank statement. All the forms that need to be filled out for an adult or minor changing their name in Illinois can be found on the Illinois Courts website.

Illinois still has a publication requirement, meaning the person seeking the name change must have their new name printed in a publication in the area where they live three consecutive weeks after the order is first filed with the court, and at least six weeks before the given court date.

However, there is a waiver for this requirement, which is given to those who may be put at risk or discriminated against in the event the name change is published. This can include protective orders and no contact orders from any state or if you’re protected under someone else’s bail conditions.

Buchert said if anyone has questions about the process or is struggling to get through waivers, to contact Lambda Legal, which provides pro bono legal services for LGBTQ+ people over the phone and will connect them with local resources if needed.

Name change orders can end up costing around $500, though lawmakers are attempting to change that. In the meantime, there are fee waivers for residents making less than $25,000 a year — though they require proof of income — and pro bono legal assistance from groups like the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois.

At the end of the process, the clerk’s office will ask how many copies of the certified name change order you need. It’s good to get several copies, since most name change processes require one be sent in and they often aren’t returned. After paying $6 for the first form, you’ll need to part with $15 for each extra copy.

If the name change petition is rejected by a judge, there is a 30-day period to file an appeal.

Buchert said the best time to get a name change is now. With an election coming up, shifting administrations can sometimes mean changing rules to replace federal documents, so it’s always best to do it sooner so that the legal advice presently available is still relevant.

How do I update my driver’s license or state ID?

Once your name change order is completed, your driver’s license and state ID can be updated.

Head to an Illinois Secretary of State location with your current, soon-to-be-replaced ID and the certified court order for a name change. Like with the gender marker change, those without a current Illinois ID or driver’s license will have to present documents from each of the categories outlined in this Secretary of State guide.

My Social Security card?

To change a name or gender marker on a Social Security card, there’s no cost, though you’ll have to make an appointment at the local Social Security office. Be sure to bring a certified name change order form, Social Security card application form and an updated, permanent license or ID.

My passport?

Changing your name and gender marker on a passport depends on when the passport was issued. (All relevant passport forms can be found here.)

If your passport was issued in the last year, you’ll need a DS-5504 form, a certified name change order less than a year older than when the passport was issued, your current passport and a passport photo. There’s no cost and it can be done by mail, though the process can be expedited for $60.

If the passport is more than a year old but still current, the process can be done by mail. A current passport, certified name change order, color passport photo and the DS-82 form can be sent in.

If not, it can still be done in person. Bring evidence of citizenship and a photocopy of it, a certified name change order, a valid ID and photocopy of the ID along with a color passport photo and the DS-11 form.

In both of these cases you’ll need to purchase a new passport book for $130 or card for $30, with the option to expedite for $60. For a gender marker change alone, only the DS-5504 form is needed along with payment based on if the passport was issued in the last year.

My birth certificate?

To change your name and gender on an Illinois birth certificate, you must fill out an Affidavit and Certificate of Correction Request form — which must be signed in front of a notary — and mail it to the Illinois Department of Public Health along with a certified name change order, photocopy of ID and $15 check or money order made out to the Illinois Department of Health.

The fee provides one copy of a new birth certificate. Extra copies bought at the time of the change will be $2 each.

For anyone born outside Illinois, there will be different requirements, and the department that handles the birth state’s birth certificates should be contacted for instructions.

My marriage certificate?

The local county clerk’s office will issue a new marriage certificate upon presentation of proof of marriage, Illinois residence and a certified name change order.

My naturalization certificate, employment authorization card and/or permanent resident card?

To have changes made to a naturalization certificate, you’ll need to pay a $555 fee and provide two passport-style photos and an Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship document.

Employment Authorization Card changes have the same process, but require an Application for Employment Authorization and carries a $495 fee.

Permanent resident card changes also have the same process, but don’t require passport-style photos. You do need to fill out the Application to Replace a Permanent Resident Card and a $465 fee.

All fees can be dropped with a waiver.

For name changes on these documents, a certified name change order is also required.

For gender marker changes on these documents, you can use a birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, court order, or a letter from a licensed health care provider as evidence to fulfill the requirement. Other official government-issued documents recognizing the accurate gender marker can also work.

For more help with making changes to immigration documents, contact Immigration Equality, an LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive immigrant rights organization that provides legal aid.

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