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Warren County family sues judge over transgender name change

Saying he has or likely will trample their constitutional rights, three Warren County families have sued a Warren County judge for denying name changes for their transgender teens.

The lawsuit filed Friday against Warren County Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph W. Kirby in federal court comes after the judge in June denied a name change for a 15-year-old girl who identified as a boy, saying the change was premature.

FIRST REPORT: Warren County judge rejects transgender child’s name change; family appeals

“The court is sympathetic to the parents of the child and their desire to assuage their child,” a transcript of a hearing attached to the lawsuit reads. “In essence, the court isn’t saying ‘no’ to the name change. The court is simply saying ‘not yet.’ Age. Develop. Mature.”

A couple is appealing a judge's decision in Warren County, saying the judge denied a name change for their transgendered child.

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The family has appealed the decision to the 12th District Court of Appeals, but Josh Engel, co-counsel for the family in the federal lawsuit, told the Journal-News that won’t solve the broader problem.

“We think that there’s a pattern and practice here that leads to a federal civil rights violation, and the federal court is where to go,” Engel said. “Because it’s not just about the one child, there’s multiple people here… An appeal would only be one person.”

Kirby said he had no comment about the lawsuit because he had not yet seen it.

Warren County Juvenile and Probate Judge Joseph Kirby. (NICK GRAHAM/STAFF)

The family of another 15-year-old girl who identifies as a boy has also petitioned Kirby for a name change, and their hearing is set for Aug. 14. A third teen, a 17-year-old boy, plans to petition Kirby to change his name.

Co-counsel Josh Langdon said it is imperative the rights of minor children be protected.

“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,” Langdon said.

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In the court transcript the parents who are appealing Kirby’s decision said they aren’t certain yet how far their child may go in the transformation from female to male. But the dad said there are practical matters to consider — like the impending driver’s license process and college applications — that will be complicated if their child’s name can’t be legally changed. He said the legal name change seemed a logical step.

Engel said the families aren’t seeking money. He said they want the federal court to declare Kirby has allegedly violated the teens’ rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment and stop him from doing it again.

The parents of two Warren County transgender teens, with their attorneys Josh Engel and Josh Langdon (center) discuss a federal lawsuit they have filed against Warren County Juvenile and Probate Judge Joseph Kirby on Friday, Aug. 3. They want the federal court to force Kirby to grant a name change for their children who were born female but identify themselves as male.  (NICK GRAHAM/STAFF)

The lawsuit chronicled name-change cases this year in Kirby’s court, and found Kirby granted name changes for six transgender adults and denied three transgender minors. A magistrate in the court granted a name change for one transgender minor. All of the other 25 name-change requests by non-transgender petitioners were granted by magistrates.

The lawyers suggest there is a pattern and the judge is ignoring what all the experts are telling the parents.

“Judge Kirby has demonstrated animosity towards transgender adolescents seeking a name change without any rational basis,” the lawyers wrote.

The transcript shows a lengthy conversation where Kirby asks a lot of questions about how the teen is coping at school and in public, how far the family plans to take the transformation from female to male, what will happen if the child has a change of heart later, and how and when the teen discovered their gender identity.

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Her dad during a press conference the attorneys held Friday said his family has considered all of Kirby’s questions.

“You know something’s up for a while and then your child officially tells you,” the father said. “Then you want to go through the process — is this real, is this a fad, is this some other condition, is it anxiety, depression, is it for attention? My child is not an attention-seeking child. So we wanted to go through that process.”

The teen explained it to Kirby this way: “There’s always been like a feeling of distress about it, like as far back as I can remember really, but I don’t think I exactly knew what I was upset about. But then around when I learned that you can be transgender, it kind of clicked, and, you know I was like that’s what I was like upset about. That I wanted to be a boy but I couldn’t.”

Kirby told the family during their previous court hearing that he was asking questions because this is a new issue.

“It’s just a new world we’re living in, and everybody is trying to struggle with it, that’s all,” he said.

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