LEBANON, Ohio -- A federal lawsuit claims a Warren County judge suggested a transgender teen was influenced by Caitlyn Jenner and wasn't sincere about his gender identity when the teen's parents requested to legally change their minor's name.
The parents of that 15-year-old teen and two other transgender teens are suing Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Joseph W. Kirby to allow their children to change their legal names from female to male. The parents claim Kirby discriminates against transgender minors in refusing to allow them to select a name that reflects their gender identity.
The plaintiffs in the suit include the parents of one transgender teen Kirby has already ruled against, parents of another teen whose hearing is scheduled for Aug. 14, and a single parent who plans to file a petition for a name change for her transgender teen.
The judge cited the 15-year-old's age as the reason for refusing the legal name change, but the suit also claims "Kirby suggested that [teen's] expression of his gender identity was not sincere, but instead was the result of exposure of media coverage of the transition by Caitlyn Jenner."
The suit cites the judge's comments about Jenner during exchanges with the teen's parents and the teen.
Judge to parents: "Well, explain to me the process. When did .... [child's name] come to you and tell you that she associates herself as a boy?
Father: "It was actually last August."
Judge: "Kind of when he [Jenner] made the papers and everybody was doing it kind of thing?"
Mother: "No, I don't believe so."
Judge: "Was it about the time that it kind of made headlines about a year ago and a half ago? ... Everybody was talking about all the transgender transformations were coming out in the paper?"
Judge to teen: "... How long have you known?
Teen: " There's always been a feeling of distress about it as long as far back as I can remember really ... But then around when I learned that you can be transgender, I kind of clicked, and you know, that's what I was upset about - that I wanted to be a boy but I couldn't."
Judge: That's what I was referring to a couple of years ago when it hit the papers, and people were starting, they were identifying themselves or associating themselves with it. Uh, because it was not something that people were talking about."
Teen: "I guess that never struck me because I've known transgender people since I was a kid ..."
Judge: "But weren't they known as cross-dressers back then or did they actually go through the physical? ... I just look at Bruce Jenner set the stage nationally for it, maybe even all of the world."
“The judge failed to consider the evidence presented by the families and doctors that the name change is in the best interest of the teenager and, instead, substituted his own skeptical views,” said attorney Joshua Engel, who filed the suit along with attorney Joshua Langdon.
Kirby's ruling in refusing the 15-year-old's petition said the change "was not reasonable and proper and in the child's best interest at this time."
The judge also said the family could not apply again until the minor becomes an adult, according to the suit.
"The court is sympathetic to the parents of the child and their desire to assuage their child," Kirby said. "In essence, the court isn’t saying ‘no’ to the name change. The court is simply saying ‘not yet.' Age. Develop. Mature.”
Langdon said denying transgender children the ability to legally change their names until age 18 "can lead to significant and irreparable harm, and increases their risk of being outed and bullied, having violence perpetrated against them, having depressive symptoms, and attempting suicide.”
The suit claims Kirby “has a pattern of treating name change requests from transgender adolescents differently than other name requests.”
It also claims that Kirby “has instructed that all name change applications from transgender persons be assigned to his docket … Typically, name change application hearings are conducted by a magistrate judge. Judge Kirby has not conducted any name change hearings for non-transgender individuals.”
As proof, the suit cites 36 name change requests in the Probate and Juvenile Division in 2018. It shows that Kirby only conducted hearings for nine transgender persons and the rest were handled by a magistrate.
Kirby denied requests from all three transgender minors and approved six requests from all six transgender adults, according to the suit. A magistrate handled one transgender minor’s request and approved it.
The other teens identified in the lawsuit are 15 and 17.
The parents of all three teens consented to the name change after “consulting with multiple medical professionals and discussing it with their child,” the suit says.