Judge Sued After Denying Name Changes For 3 Transgender Adolescents

Protestors march through Chinatown en route to the Justice department after a rally in response to last month's suicide of transgender Ohio teenager Leelah Alcorn, on January, 10, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The families of three transgender teens are suing an Ohio judge in federal court because he denied their request for a legal name change.

Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Joseph W. Kirby has allowed adults identifying as transgender to legally change their name, but has denied all transgender minors’ requests since March of this year, according to the lawsuit. A magistrate of the same court has granted the name change request to one transgender minor this year.

The lawsuit alleges that Kirby has “instructed that all name change applications from transgender persons be assigned to his docket for a hearing,” noting that name change applications are typically heard by a magistrate judge. “Judge Kirby has not conducted any name change hearings for non-transgender individuals,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also alleges that Kirby “has demonstrated animosity towards transgender adolescents seeking a name change without any rational basis.” The lawsuit claims Kirby has “ignored evidence presented by the parties from medical professionals suggesting that the name change is in the best interest of the child,” appears “unwilling to accept the view of professionals that gender identity may be expressed by adolescents” and appears to believe such adolescents are “motivated because they saw Caitlyn Jenner on television,” is motivated by “pre-existing notions about towards [sic] transgender individuals,” and did not find that the name changes “would involve a potential for fraud, would interfere with the rights of others, would permit the applicant to avoid a legal duty, or were in some way contrary to the strong public policy of the state of Ohio.”

During one hearing, Kirby asked the parents of an adolescent identifying as transgender when the teen told them. The parents responded that it was about a year-and-a-half ago. Kirby then asked if that was about the time Bruce Jenner changed his name to Caitlyn Jenner, which was covered extensively in the media. “Everybody was talking about all the transgender transformations were coming out in the paper?” Kirby asked.

Kirby returned to this line of questioning later in the hearing when talking to the adolescent. The teen first said there had “always been like a feeling of distress” over her gender identity. “But then around when I learned that you can be transgender I, I kind of clicked, and, you know I was like that’s what I was like upset about. I wanted to be a boy but I couldn’t,” the teen said. When Kirby asked if this occurred the previous year when transgenderism was in the headlines, the teen responded: "I guess that never struck me because I’ve known transgender people since I was a kid.”

Kirby then asked if they were “just known as cross-dressers back then or did they actually go through the physical?”

In denying the request, Kirby made clear he wanted the teen to wait until she is adult.

"The Court is sympathetic to the parents of the child and their desire to assuage their child," Kirby wrote. "In essence, the Court isn’t say [sic] ‘no’ to the name change. The Court is simply saying ‘not yet.' Age. Develop. Mature. And take advantage of your common-law right to use the name you are petitioning for in the meantime, so long as it’s not for fraudulent purposes.”

The lawsuit claims the name change is “likely to alleviate the harm caused by discrimination in accessing housing, health care, employment, education, public assistance, and other social services.”

The lawsuit notes that “Transgender adolescents experience rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide that are dramatically higher than those among [non-transgender] adolescents,” but suggests that it “is most likely tied to years of discrimination, internal conflict and rejection from social environments.”

The families are suing for equal protection, asserting that Kirby violated their constitutional right under the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The lawsuit alleges Kirby “has facially and intentionally discriminated against transgender people based on sex.” When The Daily Wire asked the attorney who filed the lawsuit, Joshua Engel, how Kirby discriminated on the basis of sex when he granted name changes to transgender adults, the Ohio-based attorney said the standards are different for children and adults.

“For children, the Court is required to consider the ‘best interest of the child’ in addition to whether the name change is for an improper purpose,” Engel said. “The fact that the Judge approved name changes for adults is not a relevant comparator for that reason.”

Engel also said Kirby is ignoring doctors and research into transgender teens and substituting his own views, suggesting it is just a fad they saw on TV, when the teens asking for the name changes are undergoing “extensive medical treatment from experts in the field.”

“Our clients may suffer significant harm if forced to delay the resolution of this matter,” Engel said. “Forcing a teenager to wait until age 18 to legally change their name increases their risk of being outed and bullied, having violence perpetrated against them, having depressive symptoms, and attempting suicide. There are also significant problems with obtaining official documents such as driver’s licenses and school transcripts.”

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