A transgender Georgia man’s petition to change his name to reflect his gender identity was denied because it might offend the “sensibilities and mores” of other state residents.
Augusta resident Rowan Feldhaus filed a name change petition in the Superior Court of Columbia County in July 2015. He provided all necessary documentation at a hearing in February, including an affidavit from his therapist confirming he is transgender and that changing his name would be an important part of his treatment.
However, Georgia Voice reports that Superior Court Judge J. David Roper (right) denied the request unless Feldhaus chose a middle name other than Elijah because it is not gender-neutral and he doesn’t “approve of changing names from male to female – male names to obvious female names, and vice versa.”
Roper also said it could be “dangerous” for people not to know someone’s gender by someone’s name. Feldhaus refused to choose a gender-neutral name. Roper denied Feldhaus’ petition in March because of “this court’s policy” of denying names that are not indicative of a gender. Roper added that Feldhaus’ name might offend the “sensibilities and mores of a substantial portion of the citizens of this state.” It has also been alleged that Roper said “I know who Elijah is – one of the greatest men who ever lived,” referring to the Christian prophet.
Last Thursday, Lambda Legal filed a brief in the Georgia Court of Appeals on behalf of Feldhaus, arguing that the court abused its discretion and that the decision was arbitrary and based on insufficient reasons. The brief also argues that the petition denial was unlawful discrimination based on sex and a violation of Feldhaus’ First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
A note to the press: do NOT deadname people. It is NOT necessary to your story.
— Clair Burrell (@ClairBurrell) June 10, 2016
Feldhaus said he “felt insulted and objectified to be told by the court that I would not be able to have the name that my family, my friends, and my co-workers all call me, based on sexist opinions about ‘appropriate’ names.” He added, “It can be a scary situation when I show up for work or the first day of class and my legal name does not match my public presentation and my gender identity. I just want to change my name so that it reflects who I am.”
Beth Littrell, senior attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta, said:
“For many transgender people, going to the court to change their legal name is an important first step towards aligning their legal documents with their gender identity.
“There are only a few exceptions that allow a court to deny someone the right to change their name. Being transgender is not one of those exceptions. Changing your name is time-consuming and costly and should not be denied based on sexist notions or transgender bias.”
You can read the Lambda Legal petition in full here.
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