Victory for Transgender Men Who Were Denied Name Changes

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January 23, 2017
Lambda Legal client Rowan Feldhaus

Two Lambda Legal clients who are transgender are one step closer to having their names legally changed to match their gender identity.

The Georgia Court of Appeals unanimously reversed a lower court decision Friday, saying that the judge had abused his discretion in denying name changes where there was no evidence that the requests were made for an “improper purpose.”

The Court sent the case back to the trial court with direction to grant the name changes sought by Rowan Feldhaus and Andrew Baumert.

"It was hurtful and insulting to be denied my legal name change. I’m happy that this is over, for myself, for Rowan, and for any other transgender person who wants to change their name legally in Georgia," said Andrew Baumert. "Transitioning is a difficult journey and when I took, what was for me, a big step to change my name legally, I was met with condescension and ignorance, and that’s not right."

"I’m so happy and so relieved that we won and that this is done. Being able to have my name reflect who I am as a man and have it be legal is so powerful and so important to me," said Rowan Feldhaus. "I hope that other judges see this and think twice before imposing their personal beliefs on another transgender person looking to change their name."

Columbia County Superior Court Judge J. David Roper had denied Rowan's request for a name change, arguing that Feldhaus’ requested middle name, Elijah, was not gender-neutral: "I do not approve of changing names from male to female – male names to obvious female names, and vice versa," Judge Roper said. "I think it is misleading to the public and think that it is dangerous in some circumstances for one – for the public not to know whether they’re dealing with a male or a female."

Lambda Legal client Andrew Baumert

When denying Baumert’s request, Judge Roper said, "My policy is to allow someone who claims to be transgendering [sic] — and I’ve had them in various stages — my policy is to permit someone to change, in your case, from an obviously — what appears to me to be a female name to something that is gender-neutral."

Judge Roper went on to suggest several names he “can live with,” including Morgan, Shannon, Shaun and Jaimie. Judge Roper said that for Baumert to have a name that matches his gender identity would “confuse or mislead the general public.”

"This decision solidifies an important right for the transgender community to have a name that matches and affirms their gender identities and obliterates the dangerous notion that living in conformity with that gender is somehow fraudulent or otherwise a concern for the government," said Lambda Legal Counsel Beth Littrell. "This decision puts judges on notice that their personal beliefs, which in this case were sexist and biased against transgender people, are not a substitution for the law."

In Re Feldhaus