Metro Weekly

Transgender Candidate Disqualified from Ohio Ballot

Ohio officials deploy an obscure law to try to prevent two Democratic transgender candidates from running for elected office.

Ohio State House candidates Vanessa Joy (left) and Arienne Childrey – Photo 1: Facebook; Photo 2: Ralph Orr, via Facebook

Election officials in Ohio disqualified one transgender candidate from seeking party nominations for seats in the Ohio General Assembly by using an obscure, seldom enforced law. They are currently attempting to disqualify a second.

Vanessa Joy, a candidate who sought to run as a Democrat for the Ohio House District 50 seat, which covers the area surrounding the south and west of Canton, was informed by officials in Stark County that she is ineligible to run despite having collected the necessary number of petition signatures from registered voters.

Election officials cited a little-publicized state law, passed in 1995, requiring public office candidates to list any name changes they have had over the previous five years on their signature petitions.

Joy, who has legally changed her name and gender marker on her birth certificate, told Cleveland ABC affiliate WEWS-TV she was unaware of the law and would have complied had she known of its provisions, despite disagreeing with it on principle. (The law has exceptions, such as candidates who change their names after they marry or candidates who have previously been elected to office after complying with the requirement during their first bid for office.)

Joy noted that the past names requirement isn’t mentioned on the signature petition form or in Ohio’s 2024 candidate requirement guide.

“Something that is that important should have been on the instructions,” she said. “It should have been on the petition.”

Joy also argued that she should not be required to use the name assigned to her at birth, known as her “deadname,” because it is no longer her legally recognized name.

Additionally, the act of deadnaming, or intentionally using a past name to refer to a transgender person, is considered a rude and hateful act.

“In the trans community, our deadnames are dead,” she said.

She added that requiring transgender candidates to list their deadnames on signature petitions would “undoubtedly” prevent other transgender people from running for office. 

Joy has since said she plans to challenge the decision to disqualify her from seeking the Democratic nomination. But a spokesperson for the Ohio Secretary of State told NBC News that Joy’s disqualification was warranted and called criticisms of Joy’s disqualification “unfair.”

A second transgender candidate, Arienne Childrey, of St. Mary’s Township, located 100 miles northwest of Columbus, is under threat of having her campaign petition rejected despite collecting the required number of signatures. 

Childrey is an active, certified candidate. But Mercer County Republican Party Chair Robert Hibner has requested that the county’s board of elections reject her campaign petition for violating that same law that knocked Joy off the ballot.

“As they’re actively attacking us, they certainly want to ensure that we don’t get an opportunity to hold any of the same power that they hold,” Childrey said of Republicans, who control the state legislature by a wide margin and have pushed through a host of bills attempting to restrict transgender rights.

When presented with Childrey’s accusations that she is being unfairly targeted by the law because she is transgender, Amy Ikerd, a lawyer for the Mercer County Board of Elections, told NBC News, “We’re just trying to follow the statute and keep the politics out of this as much as we can.”

Childrey, who works in retail, said that had she known about the past names requirement, she would have included her deadname.

“Having to use your deadname is horrible. It is an attack on who we are,” she said. “But would I have put it down because the goal to me is more important than my personal pride? Hell, yes, I would have.”

According to The Hill, at least three other transgender candidates have submitted petitions seeking party nominations for General Assembly offices. It remains unclear whether they also complied with the name change rule or whether they will also be knocked off the primary ballot.

The challenges to transgender candidates come as Republican lawmakers are poised to override a veto by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of a bill prohibiting trans-identifying minors from accessing gender-affirming health care treatments and preventing transgender athletes from competing on teams matching their gender identity. An override vote was expected to be held on Wednesday, January 10.

Childrey told NBC News she decided to run for public office in response to the deluge of legislation targeting transgender Ohioans.

If Childrey makes the ballot, she will face off against Ohio State Rep. Angela King (R-Celina), who has sponsored a bill to prohibit “adult cabaret performances” from taking place in public or where minors might view them.

Critics of the bill say it’s effectively a ban on drag performances, and is likely be weaponized by law enforcement to prosecute transgender individuals who don’t conform to dress codes that align with their assigned sex at birth. King also co-sponsored the ban on gender-affirming medical care and the transgender sports ban legislation.

“If you’re going to talk about us and make laws about us, then you’re going to have to compete with us,” Childrey said.

While the deadline to file for a party nomination has passed, any transgender candidate who is disqualified could seek to run as an independent by collecting petition signatures and submitting them to local election officials by March 18, according to the state’s candidate requirement guide.

Childrey seems to have rejected the idea of an independent candidacy if she is disqualified, saying she’ll seek the Democratic nomination for a future bid for office.

“The best that the local Republican can hope from this is that they postpone having to face me,” she said.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article said that Childrey was disqualified. She remains an active candidate while the board of elections meets to decide whether or not to reverse her campaign petition.

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