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The Superior Court of Columbia County, Georgia, where Judge Roper presides. (Photo: Columbia County, GA/cc)

In Name Change Case, Judge Rules by 'Sexist Stereotype'

'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'

Nika Knight

Rowan Feldhaus, a transgender man, this week appealed a trial court judge's refusal to allow him to legally change his name. 

The judge's reasoning? "I do not approve of changing names from male to female...and vice versa," Judge J. David Roper told the court back in March.

There is nothing in Georgia law that supports Roper's decision, critics have pointed out.

Feldhaus's family, friends, and coworkers all know him as Rowan Elijah, which Feldhaus is now attempting to make his legal name.

"The real threats to public safety are by those who refuse to respect name choices or who bully people because their name doesn’t fit a sexist stereotype."
—M. Dru Levasseur, Lambda Legal
Lambda Legal filed the appeal Thursday on Feldhaus's behalf, noting, "Changing your name is time-consuming and costly and should not be denied based on sexist notions or transgender bias."

In a blog post, the LGBTQ rights organization quoted Feldhaus as saying:

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.

In Lambda Legal's briefing, the group describes Judge Roper's refusal to allow Feldhaus's name change:

Judge Roper stated that he was inclined to permit Appellant to change his legal first name from Rebeccah to Rowan based on the evidence that many females are named Rowan, but "not for your benefit," instead for the protection of other people, who will "look at your ID, the people who have to look at your name, the people that have look (sic) at you and say, what’s going on here, the 17 year-old kid who’s ringing you up at the grocery store and when you want to cash a check, or whatever it is, and you produce credit card or ID that is obviously inconsistent with your appearance and he or she doesn’t know what to do."

Yet, Judge Roper stated "I am not going to change your name to Rowan Elijah. You've got to come up with something else," suggesting "maybe Shawn or some other name that is commonly given male or female," but that "when you go to a name of Rowan Elijah, I mean, nobody is going to ever say that that is not a male name." Finally, Judge Roper suggested that had Appellant claimed that Elijah was Appellant's “mother’s name or something like that" he may have approved the petition, "[b]ut that’s not what we've got here today ...."

Judge Roper has come under fire in the past for ruling against foster parents' adoption of a child because the couple was unmarried—which Roper saw as "immoral." Roper has also attempted to declare a higher court's decision "void" after it overruled his judgment on a controversial custody case.

Last year, a county clerk accused the judge of taking trial documents home with him and refusing to allow them to be properly filed with the court and made accessible to the public, a felony under state law. Georgia's Attorney General declined to investigate.

Of the judge's decision regarding Feldhaus, Lambda Legal's transgender rights project director M. Dru Levasseur argues, "The court misunderstands the limit of a court's discretion in these matters. There are many people—men and women, transgender or not—who know what it feels like to be insulted because their name does not meet someone else’s gender stereotype."

"For transgender people, having a name that reflects who they are is a meaningful step to being affirmed in the world," Levasseur adds. "The real threats to public safety are by those who refuse to respect name choices or who bully people because their name doesn’t fit a sexist stereotype."


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