Obtaining a legal name change is an essential and monumental step in many transgender individuals’ lives, and the process requires access to the courts. When pro se litigants in Miami-Dade County filed petitions for name change through Florida’s E-Filing portal, their petitions were wrongfully “abandoned” by the Clerk of Court, who refused to docket them. SLC and Legal Service of Greater Miami (LSGMI) intervened and fought to ensure that all pro se litigants would have access to the courts without facing unnecessary administrative obstacles.

The issue came to SLC’s attention because SLC created FloridaNameChange.org in 2018 to enable transgender individuals in all 67 Florida counties to easily navigate the name change process, and the site has since been used statewide in clinics offered by legal aid organizations such as LSGMI. Legal name changes prevent discrimination against the transgender community resulting from an incongruence between the individual’s gender identity and expression and the name and gender marker on their legal identification documents.

Prior to pursuing litigation, SLC and LSGMI attempted to resolve the issue with the Miami-Dade Clerk of Court through meetings that also included the Self-Help Center and judges. When those meetings failed to achieve justice for this marginalized community, SLC and LSGMI filed petitions with the Third District Court of Appeal, which were then transferred to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court, and ultimately entered into settlement discussions. The Clerk agreed not only to docket the petitions of SLC and LSGMI’s clients, but also to change its procedures so that people who file pro se petitions through the online portal will now have their pleadings docketed. SLC is now updating FloridaNameChange.org to reflect the Miami-Dade Clerk of Court’s new processes accommodating pro se litigants.