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Georgia judge denies transgender request for name change

By Daniel Uria
Alabama Superior Court Judge J. David Roper. Courtesy of the City of August, Ga.
1 of 2 | Alabama Superior Court Judge J. David Roper. Courtesy of the City of August, Ga.

ATLANTA, June 11 (UPI) -- A Georgia judge rejected a transgender man's request for a name change, saying that his masculine choice of name could be "dangerous."

Superior Court Judge J. David Roper rejected the petition of 24-year-old Rowan Feldhaus, who is female but identifies as male, to change his middle name from "Elizabeth" to "Elijah" saying: "I don't know anybody named Elijah who's female."

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"I'm not going to do that. I've never heard of that," Roper said at a hearing in March, according to a transcript. "And I know who Elijah was, one of the greatest men that ever lived.".

Civil rights group Lambda Legal filed a brief on behalf of Feldhaus, stating that Roper and the trial court abused its discretion by denying his name change based on "arbitrary" and "insufficient" reasons.

"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," Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Beth Littrell said. "Changing your name is time-consuming and costly and should not be denied based on sexist notions or transgender bias."

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The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Roper said granting a name change that allows a person to assume the opposite sex could potentially confuse emergency personnel and cause restroom safety issues.

Roper also stated that there are no guidelines for this matter in the state's name-change statute, and that the name change might offend the "sensibilities and mores of a substantial portion of the citizens of this state."

"I do not approve of changing names from male to female – male names to obvious female names, and vice versa," Roper said, according to the hearing transcript.

Feldhaus, a sergeant in the Army Reserve who works with the Singh Investment Group and is a student at Augusta University, said the ruling made him feel insulted and objectified to be denied use of the name that family, friends and coworkers use to address him.

"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," Feldhaus said. "I just want to change my name so that it reflects who I am."

Littrell said there was no precedent for the ruling that Feldhaus must only select a gender-neutral name and stated that it violates his constitutional right to expression.

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"That's discrimination plain and simple." she said. "It really shows that the judge is making it up as he goes along and not following the rules of the law."

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