Appeal filed after Georgia judge rejects name change for transgender man as 'fraud'
A Georgia man who was told by a trial court judge that he could not change his name to reflect his gender identity has filed an appeal with the state appellate court.
Rowan Elijah Feldhaus, a transgender man previously known as Rebecca Elizabeth Feldhaus, filed a name change petition in Augusta Circuit Superior Court, Law.com (sub. req.) and the Associated Press report.
According to Feldhaus’ appeal (PDF), which was filed by Lambda Legal, Superior Court Judge J. David Roper stated at a February 2016 hearing “on the record for purposes of an appeal” that he does “not approve of changing names from male to female…and vice versa.” The appeal argues that the trial court abused its discretion, engaged in unlawful discrimination based on sex and violated Feldhaus’ First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
“Name changes which allow a person to assume the role of a person of the opposite sex are, in effect, a type of fraud on the general public,” Roper wrote in his order denying Feldhaus’ request, the AP reports. “Such name changes also offend the sensibilities and mores of a substantial portion of the citizens of this state.”
Roper didn’t object to Feldhaus changing his name to Rowan, according to the appeal, because there was evidence that many females had that name. However he did object to the middle name of Elijah, which the judge thought was clearly a male name. “I’m not going to do that,” Roper said in the transcript, as quoted by Law.com. “I’ve never heard of that. And I know who Elijah was, one of the greatest men that ever lived.”
If Feldhaus had evidence that Elijah was his mother’s maiden name, the judge said, he might be OK with it. Roper also suggested that Feldhaus use a middle name like “Shawn or some other name that is commonly given male or female.”
Feldhaus, 24, is an Augusta University student and a U.S. Army reserve sergeant. He presented evidence that he has a good credit score, is not delinquent on any bills and has no criminal record, all of which courts often take into account when considering name change petitions.
Also presented was an affidavit from Feldhaus’ therapist, who confirmed that he’s diagnosed with gender dysphoria and the name change would be an important part of treatment.
“I felt insulted and objectified to be told by the court that I would not be able to have the name that my family, my friends, and my co-workers all call me, based on sexist opinions about ‘appropriate’ names,” Feldhaus said in a statement. “It can be a scary situation when I show up for work or the first day of class and my legal name does not match my public presentation and my gender identity. I just want to change my name so that it reflects who I am.”