Metro Weekly

Georgia Court of Appeals to decide whether transgender men can legally change their names

A decision in favor of the two plaintiffs could resolve the issue due to lack of opposing counsel

Georgia state flag - Photo: Zscout730, via Wikimedia.
Georgia state flag – Photo: Zscout730, via Wikimedia.

A Georgia court is expected to rule within the next month on whether transgender people have a legal right to change their names to reflect their proper gender identity.

The plaintiffs, two transgender men from Columbia County, Ga., appealed rulings by Judge J. David Roper that denied them the ability to change their names. But in a twist, the cases lack opposing counsel, as the state Attorney General’s office is not seeking to defend any law prohibiting the men from obtaining name changes, reports The Augusta Chronicle.

With no opposing party, the appeals court can still render an opinion. If the three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals sides with Roper, and determines that the men do not have the right to change their names, both are expected to appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. But if the court rules in their favor, the cases end because there is no one to challenge such a ruling.

One of the plaintiffs, Rowan Elijah Feldhaus, applied for his name change and provided the necessary paperwork — as well as an affidavit from his therapist confirming that he is transgender and that changing his name is an important part of his treatment for gender dysphoria. Roper denied the petition, objecting to the name “Elijah,” because it was not gender-neutral.

Roper ruled that, even though Georgia’s law on name changes does not address transgender individuals, allowing someone to change their name to reflect a gender that is not their biological sex could “confuse and mislead the general public, emergency personnel, actuaries, insurance underwriters, and other businesses and relationships where the sex of an individual is relevant.” Roper also raised concern over allowing a transgender person to use a restroom facility consistent with their gender identity, “especially where children use such facilities unsupervised.” Roper made similar objections after the second plaintiff, Andrew Norman Baumert, asked for a name change that would better reflect his gender identity.

The two men’s cases are part of several legal challenges involving restrictions on transgender people seeking to change either their name or gender marker on their birth certificate. In Indiana, a transgender man who is a legal permanent resident is suing over a state law requiring people to prove citizenship before they can file for a name change to better reflect his gender identity.

In Michigan, six transgender individuals are still locked in a lawsuit with the Secretary of State’s office challenging a requirement that they obtain amended birth certificates before being allowed to change the gender marker on their driver’s licenses. The state later changed its policy to allow an amended passport to serve as proof of gender, but lawyers from the ACLU argue that the policy still places a heavy burden on transgender people who have no need for a passport, or cannot obtain one due to citizenship status or financial difficulties.

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