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Lawsuit Accuses Judge of Name-Change Bias Against Transgender Children

By now, one would think judges are familiar with the process of transgender children changing their name, and that, absent some improper motive, judges must grant these petitions. And yet ...

Three mothers have filed a federal lawsuit against Juvenile Court Judge Joseph W. Kirby in Ohio, claiming he "has a pattern and practice of treating name change requests from transgender adolescents differently than other name change requests," and denying every request he hears. You can see the full lawsuit below.

Poor Judgment

Stephanie Leigh Whitaker, Jennifer Shaul, and a mother suing as Jane Doe claim Judge Kirby ordered "all name change applications from transgender persons be assigned to his docket for a hearing," and has not granted a single name change application all year for a transgender adolescent. (The lone application that was approved was granted by a magistrate judge, who normally conducts such hearings.) Not only that, but Judge Kirby has gone pretty far afield when questioning children about their name changes and gender identity, especially concerning Whitaker's child, Elliot.

According to the suit, Kirby "made a number of inquiries concerning the history of Elliot's expression of his gender and asked about Elliot's counseling and potential hormone treatment," "asked personal and irrelevant questions, such as whether Elliott was considering gender reassignment surgery or whether he was sexually attracted to women," and "asked a series of questions about which restroom Elliot used at school." And that was before he started asking about Caitlyn Jenner. From a transcript of the hearing:

THE COURT: Well explain to me the process? When did you, uh, when did Heidi
come to you and tell you that she, she associates herself as a boy?
MS. S. WHITAKER: About a year, and, a half ago
MR. WHITAKER: In, in August
MS. S. WHITAKER: Yes.
MR. WHITAKER: It was actually last August.
THE COURT: Kind of when he [Caitlyn Jenner] made the papers, and, everybody
was, was, doing it kind of thing?
MS. S. WHITAKER: No I don't believe so.
THE COURT: Was it about the time that it kind of made headlines about a year, and,
a half ago? ... Everybody was talking about all the transgender transformations were
coming out in the paper?

And then later:

THE COURT: So a year, and, a half your parents knew, and, the world knew, how
long have you known?
[ELLIOT] WHITAKER: Um, there's always been like a feeling of distress about it
like from as far back as I can remember really ... But then around when I learned that
you can be transgender I, I kind of clicked, and, you know I was like that's what I was
like upset about. That I wanted to be a boy but I couldn't.
THE COURT: That's what I was referring to a couple years ago when it hit the papers,
and, people were starting, they were identifying themselves or associating themselves
with it. Uh, because it was not something that people were talking about.
MS. S. WHITAKER: I guess that never struck me because I've known transgender
people since I was a kid ...
THE COURT: But weren't they just known as cross-dressers back then or did they
actually go through the physical? ... I just look at Bruce Jenner set the stage nationally
for it, maybe even ... [a]ll over the world.

Ultimately, Judge Kirby told the parents they couldn't apply for a name change again "until the minor becomes an 'adult.'"

No Fear of Fraud

The Ohio Supreme Court set the boundaries for denying name changes, none of which were included in Judge Kirby's rationale: "A court should deny a change of name if the change would involve a potential for fraud, if it would interfere with the rights of others, if the change would permit the applicant to avoid a legal duty, or if the change was in some way contrary to the strong
public policy of the state."

The lawsuit claims Judge Kirby "violated the Equal Protection Clause against sex-based discrimination when (he) treated transgender adolescents unfavorably because of their gender identity." Here's the full lawsuit:

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