Elliott Whitaker, a transgender teen, and his parents went to court last month hoping to receive a judge’s approval for a name change.
A doctor at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center diagnosed the 15-year-old with gender dysphoria, which means a person doesn’t identify with the gender assigned at birth, the family’s lawyer Josh Langdon said. Elliott has also received treatment for nearly a year regarding his gender identity, according to court documents obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
About 1.4 million Americans — or 0.6 percent of the population — identify as transgender, according to a 2016 analysis of government data.
Leigh and Kylen Whitaker, the teen’s parents, told WKRC that they didn’t think it would be a challenge to have a judge green light the name change request, especially because doctors supported it.
“We thought it was just a formality, basically,” Leigh Whitaker said.
But it didn’t turn out that way.
Warren County Probate Judge Joseph Kirby denied the request, ruling that the teen must “age,” “develop” and “mature” before he can legally be referred to as “Elliott.”
Kirby referred to Elliott by his birth name, “Heidi,” and used female pronouns in his written decision, writing in a footnote that “no disrespect is meant to the child in this decision.”
“In essence, the Court isn’t saying ‘no’ to the name change. The Court is simply saying ‘not yet’,” Kirby wrote in his decision. “ ... And take advantage of your common-law right to use the name you are petitioning for in the meantime, so long as it’s not for fraudulent purposes.
“Then,” Kirby added, “ask this Court again once you become an adult.”
The decision shocked Elliott’s parents, who argue they have already gone through steps to prove their child struggles with dysphoria.
“I’m also upset that a judge who spent less than 20 minutes with our child in an intimidating setting knows better than both parents, the child, a licensed therapist and a doctor specializing in transgender issues,” Kylen added to the outlet.
Kirby wrote in his ruling that Elliott “lacks the age, maturity, knowledge and stability to make this decision.” He wrote that “only time will reveal” if the teenager “is experiencing gender dysphoria or is just not comfortable with her body.”
“Is Heidi’s distress brought about by confusion, peer pressure, or other non-transgender issues — or is it truly a mismatch between her gender identity and her body?” he wrote. “Children change significantly and rapidly. A name change request today by a child could be motivated by short-term desires or beliefs that may change over the passage of time as the child matures.
“The Court recognizes the reality that Heidi’s brain is still growing and changing,” he continued, “and is simply not ready to make this life-altering decision.”
But Langdon told 10TV that the decision is unfair to his clients.
“There are federal constitutional issues here,” he said. “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.”
The family is now appealing the decision to the 12th Circuit Court of Appeals, according to WKRC.