Metro Weekly

Ohio judge who refused transgender teens’ name changes defends himself from bias charges

Joseph Kirby faces lawsuit from three families alleging he has been biased against transgender people in his rulings

Photo: Nyttend, via Wikimedia.

The Ohio judge who made headlines last month when he rejected a transgender boy’s request to change his name to reflect his gender identity is being sued by three families who accuse him of harboring bias against transgender minors.

The families allege that Warren County Judge Joseph Kirby has a “pattern and practice” of violating the constitutional rights of families with transgender minors by denying them name change requests, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Last month, Kirby rejected a request for a name change from Elliott Whitaker, a 15-year-old transgender boy, who had the backing of his parents, Stephanie and Kylen, in pursuing a gender transition. After a series of probing and awkward questions, Kirby found that the teen lacked the “maturity, knowledge and stability” to make such a decision and to understand how it would impact his life.

Kirby also referred to Elliott by his birth name and repeatedly misgendered him throughout the proceedings by using female pronouns.

The Whitakers and two other families, including one with a pending name change case before Kirby, filed suit against him. Kirby has since ordered that family’s hearing for the name change to be delayed. 

In that order, Kirby also attempted to defend himself against the charges levied against him.

“As it pertains to name changes, transgender or otherwise, the Court has always considered the best interest of the child,” he wrote. “After many years of being a probate and juvenile judge, I have learned that children do not always know what is best for them during childhood.”

But the Whitakers disagree, alleging in the lawsuit that Kirby ignored Elliott’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria, a doctor’s note authorizing Elliott to begin hormone therapy, and the advice of medical professionals who believed the name change was in the teen’s best interest.

But Kirby disagreed, writing in his most recent order: “”There was no evidence presented from any medical professional about the name change.”

“The Court holds no bias against those that are transgender,” Kirby wrote. “In fact, this Court has granted names changes for multiple applicants on the basis of their transgender status, including both adults and children.”

According to the Enquirer, Kirby granted six transgender adults name changes in 2018, but denied it in three cases involving transgender minors. The only other case involving a transgender name change to come before the court this year involved a minor, who his name change approved by a magistrate judge. 

A hearing date for the lawsuit has not yet been scheduled. Meanwhile, the Whitakers have appealed Kirby’s ruling against them to Ohio’s 12th District Court of Appeals.

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