TLDEF Challenges "Doctor's Note" Requirement for NY Name Change Applicants


"Who decides?"  That fundamental question is ever-present in the lives of transgender people.  Who decides what your gender identity is?  When you're transgender, that decision often rests with doctors, government officials, agency administrators, and others who are empowered to determine who you are, regardless of what you tell them.

We're working towards a different world, one where autonomy and freedom of choice are respected.  Today we filed an appeal challenging the New York City Civil Court's requirement that a transgender name change applicant provide medical evidence supporting his need for a name change.  The appeal comes in the case of Olin Winn-Ritzenberg, who wants to change his name because he feels that the name Olin - his father's middle name - more accurately reflects his male gender identity than the female name he was given at birth.  While most name change petitions sail through the court system, Olin's was denied because he is transgender.

In fact, Olin had told the court that he needed to change his name precisely because he's transgender.  But Olin's statement of need wasn't enough.  The court told him that he had to provide a doctor's note to show that he really needed to change his name.  We weren't surprised by this result because other transgender people in our Name Change Project have faced this requirement.  But Olin is the first who was willing to challenge it because it demeans transgender people and undermines their autonomy.  It also violates the law and raises profound constitutional concerns.  People's names are fundamental to their identities and the right to change one's name cannot be limited by the government without a compelling justification.  Fundamental fairness mandates that every person be treated equally under the law.  Transgender people may not be burdened with additional requirements to change their names.

In the end, this is about the most basic freedom, the freedom to be who we are, as each of us knows best.  As Olin stated in a press release we issued today, "My gender transition has been a very personal journey, and no one is in a better position than me to decide who I am and whether I need to change my name."  We're glad that Olin stood up for equal rights, and we plan to press forward until this requirement is struck down.

Today we took another step towards equality, but we’ve got much more to do, and we can't do it without your help. On this appeal, we had the able assistance of Brenna DeVaney, Benjamin Edwards, Daniel Gonen and Janson Mao volunteering their legal services on Olin's behalf.  We need your help, too.  Please make a donation today to help us stand strong against all those who seek to limit our rights.  Thanks for being a part of our community, and please chip in whatever you can today to help us keep working for equal rights.