Metro Weekly

Ohio judge denies transgender teen the right to change name

Judge Joseph Kirby asked Elliot Whitaker if he had made the decision to transition after Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender

Source: Ted Eytan – Flickr

An Ohio probate judge has denied a request from a transgender teenager and his parents to change the youth’s name.

Elliott Whitaker, 15, filed a request to have his name officially changed from his birth name of Heidi. Along with his parents he was instructed to attend a hearing with a judge, and the family was apparently told by friends that it would be “just a formality.”

Once the questioning began, the Whitakers said Judge Joseph Kirby asked extremely odd and unclear questions.

“He started out by asking us did this all start when all of this stuff came out in the media. And we didn’t know what he was talking about,” Leigh Whitaker, Elliott’s mother, said to WKRC. “And later on he clarified he was talking about when Bruce Jenner came out.”

The Whitakers said that Elliott has been out as transgender for around a year and has undergone extensive therapy at the local Children’s Hospital’s transgender clinic. The family said it was important to get this name change completed so that his school records, driver’s license and college applications can all reflect his chosen name.

“We did do a lot of therapy to make sure that this was something that was real,” Leigh said.

Calling Elliott “Heidi” in his decision, Judge Kirby wrote that “children change significantly and rapidly” as they age and that Elliot can request a name change when he turns 18 and has time to “Age. Develop. Mature.” The Whitakers were shocked at Judge Kirby’s ruling, and believe he abused his power to prevent the name change.

“The judge met with us for 15 to 20 minutes and then decided that he knew better than the parents and the doctors and our child,” said Kylen Whitaker, Elliott’s father. “We just don’t feel that’s right.”

The judge denied two other transgender name requests that day, though WKRC reports that he has allowed name changes for trans people in the past. The family has filed a lawsuit against Judge Kirby, with their attorney alleging that he violated “federal constitutional issues.” 

“Importantly, the parents’ right to decide the upbringing of their child, there’s also the child’s right to express himself,” attorney Josh Langdon said. “There are First Amendment issues.”

Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney at the ACLU’s Ohio affiliate told Metro Weekly they are “aware of the case” and that the child had every right to receive his name change.

“It’s very clear under Ohio law that transgender folks are entitled to have their name changed to reflect their real identity,” she said. “What we should be doing in regards to trans kids is extending them every protection that adults have and extending them our community support.”

Ohio was in the news for another transgender rights issue recently, after Republican State Representatives introduced a bill that would force teachers and doctors to tell parents if they suspect a child is showing signs of body dysmorphia.