Last year, when Rowan Feldhaus petitioned to legally change his name as part of his transition, the judge said no. He could call himself Rowan, but his middle name, Elijah, sounded too “male.”
“My policy has been that I will not change a name from an obvious female name to an obvious male name and vice versa,” said Superior Court Judge J. David Roper. “I am not going to change your name to Rowan Elijah—You’ve got to come up with something else… maybe Shawn.”
Feldhaus, then just 24, didn’t take Roper’s decision as final. Working with Lambda Legal, he appealed the decision and, in January, won the right to claim his name—and his identity.
“I’m beyond happy this is finally done, that there’s precedent over this, regardless of whether you’re trans or not,” said Feldhaus, said at the time. “I hope it helps everybody.”
Sadly, that joy was short lived: Last week, as part of his transition, Feldhaus underwent a hysterectomy. But there were complications—he went into septic shock several days later and lost oxygen to his brain. On Tuesday, Feldhaus died.
“It was complications post-surgery and then he was readmitted post surgery and it started snowballing from there,” a friend, Austin Atkins, told CBS 12.
Hysterectomies are fairly routine procedures—some 600,000 are performed each year. But all surgeries come with risks.
“[He] knew the risks going into all of this and he was willing to accept the risks to do what he knew he wanted to do,” Atkins added. “Rowan will always be a personal hero of mine. He set an example for others to follow with how he lived his daily life.”
Originally from Frankfurt, Germany, Feldhaus was an Army reservist and student at Augusta University. He was active in campus life and local LGBT advocacy. His mother says Feldhaus will continue to help people even in death, through organ donation.
“Rowan’s grace, quiet dignity, strength and self-assurance were an inspiration to me and many others who heard his story,” said Lambda Legal’s Beth Littrell, who successfully represented Rowan in his case.
“Because Rowan stood up, Georgia judges are now required to allow people to change their names without bias,” she added. “At only 25 years old, [he] was taken from us too soon, but he left a legal legacy that will live on and help others for many years to come.”
A memorial service, Rowan Elijah Feldhaus: Celebration of Life, will be held Saturday, May 20, at the CrossFit gym Feldhaus worked at.