On June 18, 15-year-old transgender boy Elliott Whitaker and his parents, Leigh and Kylen Whitaker, appeared before the court to request a legal name change for Elliott.
To his parents, the hearing wasn’t going to be a challenge.
“We thought it was just a formality, basically” said Leigh. Elliott had been receiving treatment for nearly a year regarding his gender identity, and had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, according to the Miami Herald.
Leigh told WKRC that the other parents in her support group told her the hearings are typically brief and questions are asked to ensure the change isn’t being requested for fraudulent reasons.
They were wrong.
Warren County Probate Judge Joseph Kirby denied the request, ruling that the teen must “age,” “develop,” and “mature” before he can be legally referred to as “Elliott.”
In his written decision, Kirby referred to Elliott as his birth name and used female pronouns to describe him, writing that “only time will tell” if the teenager is “is experiencing gender dysphoria or is just not comfortable with her body.”
“Is Heidi’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?” he continued.
Kirby stressed in his written decision that the answer is not “no,” but “not yet,” telling the teen to come back when he was an adult.
The decision shocked Elliott’s parents, who had been through the steps needed to ensure this was the best thing to do for their son.
“The judge met with us for 15 to 20 minutes and then decided that he knew better than the parents and the doctors and our child. We just don’t feel that’s right,” said Kylen.
The Miami Herald reported that Josh Langdon, the Whitaker’s lawyer, said the decision was unfair to his clients, saying, “There are federal constitutional issues here. Importantly, the parents right to decide the upbringing of their child. There’s also the child’s right to express himself. There are First Amendment issues.”
His parents worry about how this decision will affect Elliot, saying that legally changing his name was an important part of his transition. His birth name currently appears on his school records. It will be on his driver’s license and college applications as well if it is not changed until adulthood.
According the Hello Giggles, they have reason to worry. A study done by The University of Texas at Austin found that using a transgender child’s correct pronouns and their chosen names greatly benefits their mental health.
The study found that trans people who were able to use their chosen name at school, work, home, and with friends experienced 71 percent fewer symptoms of severe depression, 34 percent decrease in suicidal thoughts, and 65 percent suicide attempts.
Elliott’s parents, reported ABC News, were also asked whether Elliott’s decision to transition was inspired by Caitlyn Jenner’s publicized coming-out.
Leigh said she found this “condescending,” and that “it’s very dismissive to think that [being transgender is] just a fad that kids are seeing on TV.”
Caitlyn Jenner heard about these comments and responded in a video posted to her Facebook page on July 18.
“It has come to my attention that a judge in Ohio thinks I’m brainwashing young kids into becoming trans,” she said. “My coming out public wasn’t to brainwash cisgender people, it was to let the mainstream world know, hey, we exist. We’re here, and this isn’t a mental illness. So, I send a message to Elliott in Ohio: Your identity is real, and we are behind you 100 percent to build a safer world.”
According to court documents, Kirby is now facing a lawsuit that alleges he has “a pattern and practices of treating name change requests from transgender adolescents differently than other name change requests.”
In the suit, the three plaintiffs – Whitaker, Jennifer Shaul, and an unnamed Jane Doe – claim Kirby has demonstrated “animosity towards transgender adolescents seeking a name change without any rational basis.”
Langdon is the attorney for the plaintiffs, and says the case is about equal protection under the law. He told ABC news, “The heart of this case is preventing irreparable harm to transgender teenagers. Basically, a name change is supposed to be a routine, rubber-stamp type of an action if everybody’s in agreement. It’s clear from the beginning that the court is treating these cases differently.”