Parents appeal after judge denies transgender teen name change
LEBANON, Ohio (WKRC) - The parents of a transgender teenager claim a Warren Co. probate judge violated their constitutional rights when he denied their request to legally change their son's name.
Leigh and Kylen Whitaker filed the request to change their son's name from Heidi to Elliott. Last month, Judge Joseph Kirby denied their request after a hearing.
"We thought it was just a formality, basically," said Leigh Whitaker, Elliott's mother, of the hearing.
Leigh said other parents in her support group told her the hearings are typically brief and questions are asked to ensure the name change isn't being requested for fraudulent reasons. The Whitakers said some of Judge Kirby's questions surprised them.
"He started out by asking us did this all start when all of this stuff came out in the media. And we didn't know what he was talking about. And later on he clarified he was talking about when Bruce Jenner came out," Leigh recalled.
The Whitakers said Elliot came out to them as transgender a year ago. Since then, he's been in therapy and under the care of the transgender clinic at Children's Hospital Medical Center. They said legally changing their son's name is an important part of his transition because Elliott's birth name currently appears on his school records. When he applies for a driver's license, the female name will also appear if it is not changed. Elliott would also have to use it on college applications when the time comes.
"We did do a lot of therapy to make sure that this was something that was real," Leigh said.
In Judge Kirby's decision, he questioned whether Elliott, whom he referred to as Heidi, was confused and wrote in part "children change significantly and rapidly." Judge Kirby ended his decision by writing that Elliott can request the name change again when he becomes an adult and "Age. Develop. Mature."
The Whitakers were taken aback by the judge's words.
"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 Whitaker, Elliott's father.
The Whitakers' attorney believes Judge Kirby's decision violated their rights.
"There are federal constitutional issues here," said LGBTQ attorney Josh Langdon. "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."
Langdon said Judge Kirby denied two other requests for name changes involving transgender people on the same day. However, other name changes had been granted last year by Judge Kirby.
The 12th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case.