A Wisconsin appeals court rejected arguments Wednesday from a transgender teen who contended she shouldn't be forced to register as a sex offender because she has to use her male name on the registry in violation of her free speech rights.
The teen, identified only as Ella in court documents, was adjudicated delinquent in Shawano County after she sat on a half-blind autistic boy and sexually assaulted him in 2016. Ella identified as a male during the incident. Department of Corrections records indicate she was 6-foot-5 and weighed 345 pounds; the boy was 5-foot-10 and weighed 110 pounds.
She was ordered to register as a sex offender and sent to the state's youth prison outside Irma, where she was physically assaulted twice. She had to be transferred to a treatment center because she was transitioning from male to female and had become a target for other youth at the prison, according to court documents.
She successfully completed treatment and filed a motion asking a judge to stay the order that she register as a sex offender. She argued that the requirement that she use her legal male name on the registry violates her First Amendment right to self-expression as a woman and outs her as transgender.
Registrants are required to include any aliases. State attorneys argued that Ella could therefore include her female name on the registry as such. But Ella countered that's not enough to protect her right to formally identify as a woman.
The 3rd District Court of Appeals unanimously sided with the state.
“Ella has the right to use whatever name she chooses, provided she includes it in the sex offender registry,” Judge Mark Seidl wrote. “Her freedom of expression is therefore not implicated. Neither the fact that she may feel uncomfortable when having to use her legal name, nor that she feels ‘outed’ when she does use her legal name, renders the statute unconstitutional as applied to her."
Cary Bloodworth, one of Ella’s attorneys, said in a statement that she was “profoundly disappointed” with the ruling and it doesn’t make sense that she can list her female name as an alias but is formally identified by her male name.
“It only serves to harm her psychologically by requiring her to continue to publicly identify by a male name,” Bloodworth said, “and to endanger her physically by increasing the risk that she will continue to be the victim of transphobic attacks by members of the public who are able to identify her as transgender by her legal male name.”
The youth prison in Irma has been plagued for years by allegations of guard-on-prisoner violence. Lawmakers passed a bill in 2018 to close the prison and replace it with smaller regional facilities by this July. Gov. Tony Evers has said there isn't enough money to accomplish that by the deadline.