CLEVELAND — An attorney for the mothers of three transgender teens in Ohio said in a federal lawsuit filed Friday that a county judge has shown a disturbing pattern and practice of not allowing transgender children to legally change their names, refusals that can prove harmful and violates their constitutional right to equal protection.
The lawsuit names Joseph Kirby, the Probate and Juvenile Court judge in Warren County near Cincinnati. Kirby’s bailiff said Friday the judge was out of town and unavailable for comment.
Stephanie Whitaker, of Mason, sued on behalf of her 15-year-old son Elliott after Kirby in June refused to allow him to change his name from Heidi, saying he should come back when he turns 18. Jennifer Saul sued to protect her 15-year-old son James, who has a hearing Aug. 14 before Kirby to change his name from Jenna. A woman listed in the lawsuit as Jane Doe says her 17-year-old son fears that Kirby will reject his name change petition, which hasn’t yet been filed.
All three teens have been receiving therapy and medical treatment for gender dysphoria with their doctors fully supporting their name changes.
The lawsuit said Kirby refused to grant two other transgender teens name changes this year because they are minors. The only approval for a transgender minor this year in Warren County came from a court magistrate.
“Forcing children to wait until they’re 18 to change their names increases their risk of being outed and bullied, having violence perpetrated against them and having depressive symptoms,” attorney Joshua Langdon said.
It’s especially important for transgender children to be allowed to use their new names on their driver’s licenses, school records and college applications, Langdon said. He added that studies show the more times transgender children are “dead named” — referred to by their birth names — the higher the risk of suicide attempts.
Legal name changes are routine, even for children, if they and their parents are in agreement, Langdon said.
“The only time the court is supposed to step in is if there’s a disagreement among the parties,” he said.
Langdon noted the inappropriateness and irrelevance of Kirby’s questioning of Elliott Whitaker at his June hearing. A transcript shows that Kirby asked the teen about what restroom or locker room he uses at school and whether his transition has anything to do with his sexual interests. Kirby also wondered whether Caitlyn Jenner “set the stage” for people to change their genders.
Kirby’s subsequent ruling on Elliott’s case mirrored his previous refusals. He noted that judges must take the best interest of a child into consideration when deciding whether to allow a legal name change and wrote that he’s not saying, “no,” but “not yet,” and to try again when he turns 18.
Langdon said he is not aware of any other federal lawsuits that have been filed over such refusals.
“We’re trying to make sure that judges don’t treat transgender teens differently on account of their gender identity,” Langdon said.