Ohio Appeals Court Defends Trans Teen’s Right to a Legal Name Change

Judges ruled unanimously that a lower court's previous ruling rejecting the name change was "arbitrary, unreasonable, [and] unconscionable."

An appeals court in Cincinnati has overturned a lower court ruling denying a transgender teen a legal name change.

Back in 2018, Kylin and Stephanie Whitaker went to a local court to apply for a name change for their 15-year-old child.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the teen—who was unnamed by local media but previously identified as Elliott Whitaker by The Miami Herald—had been seeing a therapist for gender dysphoria for about a year and just began hormone replacement therapy (HRT) at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center around the time of the initial court date.

Despite Elliott’s support from health care providers and family members, Judge Joseph Kirby of Warren County, Ohio, determined that the teen didn’t have the “maturity, knowledge and stability” to make this choice.

“Whether [the teen] is experiencing Gender Dysphoria or is just not comfortable with her body is something that only time will reveal,” Kirby wrote in his legal decision, misgendering Elliott in the same breath. “Is [the teen’s] distress brought about by confusion, peer pressure, or other non-transgender issues—or is it truly a mismatch between her gender identity and her body.”

Elliott’s parents refused to back down, later filing an appeal of Kirby’s decision. On March 4, 2019, judges from the 12th District Court of Appeals ruled that Elliott was in fact entitled to a name change. The decision was unanimous, reports the Enquirer, and judges called Kirby’s previous ruling “arbitrary, unreasonable, unconscionable, and based solely upon the transgender status of the applicants’ child.”

Though Kirby could legally hold additional hearings for the case and reject the name change again, advocates doubt he will, since he’d need to justify the choice yet again.

According to the Whitaker family’s lawyer, Josh Langdon, the victory is a big deal for LGBTQ Ohioans. “I believe this is the first pro-LGBT case from the 12th District,” he told the Enquirer.

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