Appeals court: Judge’s denihal of transgender name change ‘unconscionable’

An Ohio appeals court has overturned a judge’s decision to deny a transgender 15-year-old a legal name change.

In a unanimous decision, the 12th District Court of Appeals ruled Warren County Probate Judge Joseph Kirby’s decision “was arbitrary, unreasonable, unconscionable and based solely upon the transgender status of the applicant’s child.”

Kylin and Stephanie Whitaker, the parents of the teen, applied for the name change after their child received therapy at the Lindner Center for about a year and was beginning hormone therapy at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, court documents state.
Both of the teen’s parents, a therapist and a doctor specializing in treating transgender children stood behind the name change.

In June, Kirby denied the request claimed the teen lacked the “maturity, knowledge and stability” to make such a decision.

“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 decision. “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.”
The Whitakers appealed the decision. They said Kirby ignored the advice of medical and mental health professionals who say an early name change allows transgender children to get their driver’s license and register for school with a name that reflects their gender identity, avoiding further confusion and trauma.

The Whitakers were also part of a lawsuit against Kirby, but the Ohio Supreme Court declined to take on the case.

Kirby said he in court filings that he is obligated to rule in the best interest of the child.

The appeals court decision, dated March 4, states Kirby fixated on the teen’s maturity and failed to adequately consider the parent’s wishes and medical advice.
“The parents undertook efforts to satisfy themselves that [their child’s] feelings about his gender identity were ‘real,’ and … were satisfied that [the teen] did not want the name change as part of a ‘fad,’ ‘trend,’ or ‘passing phase,’ ” according to the decision.

“This is a huge win,” said Josh Langdon, the Whitakers’ lawyer. “I believe this is the first pro-LGBT case from the 12th District.”

Kirby’s judgment has been reversed and remanded, meaning that the Warren County Probate Court has been ordered to reconsider the Whitakers’ application.

It is up to Kirby whether he holds additional hearings for the case. In theory, Kirby could also issue another ruling denying the name, but the appeals court decision would demand more justification.

Jennifer Shaul and her husband, Jeff Shaul, had a scheduled hearing delayed regarding a name change for their transgender child while the Ohio Supreme Court and appeals court make their decisions. The Shauls’ case is now schedule to take place next month.
Kirby could not be reached for comment at the time of this report.

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