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The Deal With Name Changes

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One major issue that plagues many transgender people is when the name on their identification does not match who they truly are.

This issue is remedied by legally changing one’s name and gender marker on driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports and social security cards. Changing one’s gender marker on their driver’s license in Ohio is as simple as having a doctor fill out paperwork provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and turning it into a local agency to issue the new license. Ohio currently does not amend birth certificates to reflect transition, but that is another issue for another time. The other three documents tend to follow in line — and everything starts with the legal name change.

Most people believe that a name change policy covers the entire state. However, this is not the case in Ohio. Name change policies for transgender people actually vary from county to county in Ohio. This is not only confusing, but it makes the task of changing one’s name even more daunting and scary.

The variations are in every aspect of a name change. Things such as fees and cost differ depending on the county. Other variations include questions asked by a magistrate or judge. There are differences in how to file, where to find paperwork and how long it takes to obtain a court date.

The easiest counties to change one’s name due to transition are Cuyahoga, Trumbull and Mahoning. These counties not only make filing a breeze by including the cost of legal notification in their fees, but they ask little to no questions about where you are in the process or how you deal with the process. They have pretty standard waiting times for court dates (two to three months, depending on the size of the list of cases before the court).

Other counties in Ohio are not so trans-friendly. A Kenton County judge openly admitted to one transgender person who was getting a name change that the process is rather invasive if you say it is for a transition. The judge went on to say that the court requires judges to ask over a dozen questions related to surgeries, mental illness and any medical procedures had to transition in order to grant the change. This is not only invasive, but highly degrading to the transgender person looking to change their name.

The process gets even more complicated if the person is a minor. Though a minor can legally get a name change if both parents signing off on the request before going through the same hearing process as an adult, some counties have taken it upon themselves to override the parents’ decision.

In a court out of Warren County, Judge Joseph Kirby denied two transgender teenagers their name changes. In one of his decisions, Kirby wrote, “Is [the teen’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.” In other words, the judge decided that these teens were not old enough to decide who they are, and that their parents have no right to allow them to “indulge this fantasy.”

To make matters worse in this case, Judge Kirby blatantly referred to the teen by their birth name and by the incorrect pronouns numerous times. Not only does this show disregard for the request of a name change, this also disrespects the people requesting the change. It is also hard to say if these were isolated incidents or if this is how Judge Kirby rules all the time.

Luckily, there is help for those needing it to navigate through the name change process. TransOhio, a nonprofit group based out of Columbus, takes volunteer lawyers all over the state to hold Name Change Clinics. This group assists transgender people in filling out the paperwork, understanding the process of a name change and even has a way to provide assistance with fees to those who may need it. TransOhio has hosted clinics in Columbus, Youngstown, Akron, Athens, Lima and many other cities over the past few years.

As a person who has gone through the process myself, I know that understanding the basics of it helped me greatly. Though many counties in Ohio make it a breeze, it is scary not knowing what counties are friendly and what ones make it a hassle. I do not have a complete list of how each county handles name changes; however, my friends at TransOhio have told me that most counties keep it simple and are not invasive. There seem to only be a few that attempt to cross a line when it comes to questioning. (The incident with Judge Kirby seems to be the only real example of its kind.)

Though the process is intimidating, the end result is worth it. For most Ohioans, the name change process seems way scarier than it actually is. It is a large weight to be lifted when it is over and done.

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