Judge under fire for declining transgender man's request for name change

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A Georgia judge is under fire for refusing to change the name of a transgender man, saying his choice was too masculine and could be misleading.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday that attorneys for Rowan Feldhaus filed a brief with the Georgia Court of Appeals this week saying that Columbia County Superior Court Judge J. David Roper overstepped his authority by refusing to allow Feldhaus to change his name from Rebeccah Elizabeth to Rowan Elijah.

The 24-year-old Feldhaus was born a female but identifies as a male, according to the paper. Roper heard the petition for a name change in February and turned it down in March. Roper apparently had an issue with Feldhaus’ choice of Elijah as a middle name.

“I don’t know anybody named Elijah who’s female,” Roper said, per a hearing transcript. “I’m not going to do that. I’ve never heard of that. And I know who Elijah was, one of the greatest men that ever lived.”

Feldhaus was a former sergeant in the Army Reserve and attended Augusta University. Feldhaus said in a statement that he felt insulted and objectified to be told he can’t use the name that his family, friends and even co-workers already use.

“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.”

The Journal-Constitution reported the transcript also reveals Roper said, “I do not approve of changing names from male to female – male names to obvious female names, and vice versa.”

Roper said the name “Rowan” was acceptable because, according to him, it was gender-neutral.

The judge also said in his order that granting such a name change could create some problems. He stated restroom safety as part of the problems it could create as well as “confuse emergency personnel” and other situations in which gender could be relevant.

Beth Littrell, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, told the paper there’s no precedent for transgender people to choose gender-neutral names and called said Roper’s decision was based on personal opinions.

“It really shows that the judge is making it up as he goes along and not following the rules of the law,” Littrell said

Roper hasn’t commented on the backlash.

Click for more from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.