Advocates Protest Name Change Denial
Trans rights group presses for reconsideration of Manhattan ruling
By Duncan Osborne
Gay City News
14-20 September 2006
Volume 5, Number 37
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project is objecting after a Manhattan Civil Court judge denied name changes to four transgendered women who sought the new names as part of transitioning to their female sex. “He called us up and said I’m denying this because I don’t want to adjudicate gender,” said Pooja Gehi, a staff attorney at the Project, which represents three of the four women.
The denials, which occurred in July, came after Jose A. Padilla, the judge, “insisted on a requirement for medical documentation related to sex reassignment surgeries,” according to a press statement from the Project, which represents transgendered people and is named for the late transgendered activist.
The state law that governs name changes limits judicial review of any application for a name change to concerns related to criminal acts, such as whether the person is seeking to avoid debt or to participate in identity theft. “According to the statute, it’s limited to fraud or misrepresentation or the interference with another person’s rights,” Gehi said.
Generally, name changes are easy to obtain and denials are rare. Padilla cited a 1992 case from a Queens court that also denied a name change to a transgendered person. Gehi said that case was “outdated” and “not really relevant.”
There are no higher court decisions, either favorable or unfavorable, in New York state that the Project can point to, but it has asked Padilla, who did not respond to a Gay City News request for comment, to reconsider in a recent brief. They have not yet received a response. “We wrote a brief explaining why his decision was inappropriate, but we haven’t heard back,” Gehi said.
While it is generally easier to get a name change compared to changing the gender identification on a driver’s license or a passport, it can be just as important. “It’s basically a part of contributing to their safety, their being able to interact in the world with their preferred name and with a name that matches their gender,” Gehi said. “It’s a big step for comfort.”
Pauline Park, chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, a leading transgender group, was not surprised to learn of the denials. “One, it’s becoming increasingly easy and two, it’s very arbitrary,” she said. “I have heard anecdotal evidence of people either being denied or having a hard time.”
Whether a person successfully obtains a name change in New York City can depend on which borough they live in and which judge reviews the
application, Park said.
Changing one’s “legal sex designation” is “a much more elaborate procedure,” Park explained, so the news that even name changes are being denied pointed up just how difficult the entire process can be for transgendered people. “It is the easiest,” Park said. “If someone is encountering a problem with name change then clearly that suggests there may be even greater difficulties when trying to get a change of legal sex designation…
It is a very difficult situation. I think we are still in the early stages in dealing with these issues.”
This article originally appeared in the 14-20 September 2006 issue (Volume 5, Number 37) of Gay City News.