Lambda Legal filed a brief Thursday in the Georgia Court of Appeals on behalf of a transgender Augusta man whose petition to legally change his name to reflect his gender identity was denied by a trial court because it might offend the “sensibilities and mores” of other Georgia citizens.

Rowan Feldhaus, 24, was assigned female at birth but his gender identity is male. He filed a petition for name change in the Superior Court of Columbia County last July and provided all the necessary documentation for the name change at a hearing in February of this year, including an affidavit from his therapist confirming he is transgender and that changing his name would be an important part of his treatment.

Superior Court Judge J. David Roper stated that he would deny the requested name unless Feldhaus chose another middle name, because “Elijah” was not gender-neutral and he “do[es] not approve of changing names from male to female – male names to obvious female names, and vice versa.” Roper also stated that it could be “dangerous” for people not to know someone’s gender by someone’s name, but Feldhaus refused to seek another name to satisfy the judge’s opinion about “appropriate” names based on gender stereotypes.

Beth Littrell, senior attorney at Lambda Legal. (photo via Lambda Legal)

Beth Littrell, senior attorney at Lambda Legal. (photo via Lambda Legal)

Roper denied Feldhaus’ petition in March citing “this court’s policy” of denying names that are not indicative of a gender in a way that he approves of. He also cited his concern that Rowan’s name might offend the “sensibilities and mores of a substantial portion of the citizens of this state.”

Lambda Legal is appealing the denial, and in the brief filed Thursday they argued that the court abused its discretion when it denied Feldhaus’ name change and that the decision was arbitrary and based on insufficient reasons. The brief also argues that the court’s denial was unlawful discrimination based on sex and a violation of Feldhaus’ First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

“For many transgender people, going to the court to change their legal name is an important first step towards aligning their legal documents with their gender identity,” said Beth Littrell, senior attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta, in a statement. “There are only a few exceptions that allow a court to deny someone the right to change their name. Being transgender is not one of those exceptions. Changing your name is time-consuming and costly and should not be denied based on sexist notions or transgender bias.”

Feldhaus, who works with the Singh Investment Group and is a student at Augusta University, said in a statement, “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. 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.”

Here’s a copy of the Lambda Legal brief filed today:

14 Responses

  1. Michael Vittitow

    Why do these southern states al;low people to marry thier cousins but not allow trans people live their lives in peace? He neds to apeal. Of course there are other names that he can chose that can be male or female. but he should get the name he wants. It is his life afterall.

    Reply
  2. Brandon

    I filed my name change in Augusta as well and was assigned the same judge. He gave me the same reasons for denying my name change. It’s interesting that my attempts to contact Lambda Legal about it were ignored, but at least this judge is finally being called out.

    Reply
    • Brandon

      In addition, he called me to the bench and offered to allow me to change my first name to just a B, since the name I was changing it from also began with a B. Not only did he deny me the legal rights to my name but also tried to strip me of any name and leave me with an initial. He claimed it “may cause confusion” but thought an initial would make it any easier.

      Reply
      • Dawn

        The only confusion here is how he was able to get a judgeship!

    • Cheryl Courtney-Evans

      If I were you, I’d re-contact Lambda Legal, even if it meant going to their office and reinstigating my case! They were derelict in their duty to assist you.

      Reply
  3. Caroline

    So glad this judge is being called out for his bigotry and stupidity. This is not the first person denied a name change by this judge. My nephew had the same experience with him. People come to court for fairness and being denied equal access and protection undermines the integrity of the court. Make the judge reimburse all the costs of the people he denied name changes to.

    Reply
    • mae

      First person? He has a history of doing shit like this. Seriously just google, “Roper +controversial +judge” and you’ll strike it rich in butthurt.

      Reply
  4. jo

    in 1994 when i filed i only had to swear before judge i was not changing name to defraud my creditors.

    Reply
  5. Marlayna

    How does anyone think that any individual, any US citizen, live without correct documentation. It is absolutely imperative that GA. and all states collaborate and permit all transgender individuals to legally change their names and gender marker on birth certificates. This then needs to activate on all educational degrees and social security forms/cards. Otherwise, US citizens will be forced to live as an undocumented individual which seems illegal

    Reply

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