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Bias And Name Changes

A couple of stories hit the news this week about transsexual people trying to change their names to reflect who they are now. In both cases, they were thwarted (which is why the stories made the news), and both, in articles about their cases, were accompanied by statements indicating anti-transgender bias.

One case involves Rev. Ronnie Elise Elrod, who wanted the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to change the name on her diploma to reflect her change from male-to-female. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary refused the request. Their bureaucratic policy sounded pretty uniform in application to me:

“We have an institutional policy that we do not change names on diplomas,” said R. Albert Mohler, president of the seminary in Louisville, Ky. “That’s just the bottom line.”

Mohler said the school also doesn’t change names to note a change in someone’s marital status.

“If you’re married, if you change your name, if you move to another planet — it doesn’t matter,” added Mohler. “We’re not going to change the name on a diploma. … That long predated anyone asking for it for this reason.”

But of course, Dr. Mohler, know within segments of the transgender community for his articles Gender Confusion in the Kindergarten? and A Transgender Pastor in the Pulpit?, was further quoted in the Religion News Service article on Rev. Elrod:

Mohler has been vocal in his questioning of whether a man can truly change into a woman or vice versa but he, too, views this as a separate issue from the school’s diploma policy. He has written a column and spoken on his radio program about the case of a United Methodist transgender minister who has been permitted to remain pastor of his Baltimore church.

Mohler cited the Southern Baptist faith statement, which calls “the gift of gender … part of the goodness of God’s creation.”

Mohler said gender is “something that is assigned by God” and surgery may change how an individual looks but not their “chromosomal structure.”

“We would want to respond with pastoral concerns to persons who are struggling with this issue,” he said. “But we cannot endorse any confusion of gender and certainly not the notion of a sex change or sex assignment and the surgery that may be involved.”

The other story on a transgender woman being thwarted in her attempt to change her name to reflect her female identity comes from Will County, Illinois. In the Chicago Tribune article Transgender woman seeks name fee waiver (emphasis added):

A transgender woman who wants to change her legal name from “Donald” to “Daunn” asked the state Supreme Court Thursday to order Will County’s chief judge to waive about $450 in court fees because of her low income.

The legal filing by Daunn Turner, 52, of Lockport contended Will County Chief Judge Stephen White rejected the request by declaring, “I am not spending the county’s money on something like this.”

White told her the name change was “something that she wanted, not something that she needed,” the court filing said.

Imagine yourself with a name usually associated with the opposite sex: How necessary do you think it would be to change your name to match your gender identity? How difficult do you think it might be to get a job when your name doesn’t match the gender you are presenting as? Name changes for transsexual people aren’t a just a “want,” the name changes help us present as who we are. And more importantly, the name change helps transsexual people gain meaningful employment.

Thankfully, in Daunn Turner’s case, Lambda Legal has stepped in, and has filed papers in her case:

The court filing contended that a judge must grant a person’s “indigency application” if paying the fee would create a substantial hardship.

The judge’s personal views shouldn’t be a factor, said Turner’s attorney, Christopher Clark.

“That’s not the way a judge is supposed to determine whether someone can use the court system,” Clark said.

What’s in a name? For a transsexual person, it often is about implications of gender identity. It also is about how well he or she can function in society as a member of his or her target sex — such as with employment, housing, and public accommodation. When it’s tough to change one’s name on one’s identification and historical documents, it’s often tough to function in society as who one is.

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