Trans-Man Denied Name Change from Louisa County Judge
Photo of Jacob Haley via Facebook
A trans-man from Louisa County, Virginia, has been denied a name change by a Circuit Judge who, contrary to current Virginia law, said medical documentation was required for legal name changes.
Jacob Haley went to the Louisa County Courthouse in February of this year. When he handed the clerk the forms to change his legal name from his female birth name to his male name, the clerk, according to Haley, said ”more than likely (you’re) going to need a hearing, the judge is going to want to know the reasoning.”
Haley realized this might happen and asked if he would need to bring anything with him when he returned to court. He was told to bring “anything that would help explain the name change.”
Haley currently works two jobs and receives health care form one of his employers. But his health care does not cover transgender-related services, including hormone treatment or therapy. Unable to afford treatment, Haley has been working with local groups and has been raising funds independently. But it has not been easy. “It’s a struggle,” said Haley. “I’ve been trying to get money together since 2011 when I came out.”
Lacking any direction from the clerk, and without any kind of therapy services, Haley went to court a few days after filing the paperwork to plead his case to the judge. Haley explained that he was female to male transgender, and that he needed to change his name to help his mental health. ”I’ve been dealing with this for a very long time – it’s all I can really say; it’s just me being upfront and honest,” he told the judge.
The judge, Hon. Timothy Sanner, told Haley that in previous name-changing cases involving transgender individuals, a note from a doctor or some medical record was brought to help prove the need for a name change. According to Haley, Judge Sanner said “The prior case had been seen by a therapist for years, had been through hormone therapy, and had a letter and things to back their story up.”
“What does that person have to do with me?” Haley thought, but he was hesitant to say this in the courtroom. “Yes, we’re both transgender, but we could have come from different walks of life. That person could have had access to more healthcare options. I don’t.”
Sanner then told Haley he would need to see paperwork from a medical professional before approving the name change. ”[The judge said] the courts would like to see something of that nature,” Haley said. ”He didn’t say anything about the law.”
Name-changing laws in Virginia are more straight forward, according to Norfolk based attorney Michael Hamar. “Most of my clients, it’s so easy they do it themselves,” said Hamar. “They get the form, they fill it out, they get on the docket, and it gets entered.”Nowhere on the name-change application does it specify that there are additional materials needed. The two page form asks for criminal history, current address, your parents’ full name. Virginia law specifies “The order shall contain no identifying information other than the applicant’s former name or names, new name, and current address.”
Medical documentation is required for changing genders on a birth certificate, and similarly for Virginia state ID’s like driver’s licenses. Hamar said the judge could have confused the two, but denying a simple name change because there is no doctor’s note is not in line with the law. “The forms are standardized, you print them out and pay your money, and you may or may not have to appear. You usually don’t even have to show,” according to Hamar.
Other transgender people in Virginia told GayRVA that they received their legal name changes in similarly simple circumstances. In an email, Ryan O’Donnell changed his name in 2010. “I did it through the mail, so I didn’t have to go before a judge, I just had to get the form notarized and send it to the county clerk’s office. I got the form back in a couple of weeks with no hassle… I have plenty of trans friends in Virginia who changed their names with little to no hassle.”
Karen Barker a member of PFLAG Blue Ridge, a group that helps LGBTQ individuals throughout Western and Central Virginia, including Haley’s home of Louisa County. Barker said Haley’s problems with receiving care are similar to many other transgender people that the PFLAG leader had seen in the region. ”There are a lot of companies that have specific exclusions for transgender coverage in their health care plans. The most difficult ones will block mental health coverage that’s transgender-related.” The multiple doctor visits and the costs of the procedure can weigh heavy on someone in an already delicate situation. And most hormone providers will want a letter from a mental health provider before they will start hormone therapy. “That’s the biggest barrier people face,” said Barker. “They can’t pay out of pocket to get a letter from a mental health professional to then go and get hormone treatment.”
Barker, who additionally is the mother of a trans-son, said she encountered no difficulty getting her son’s name changed. She went through the process via mail and never had to go before a judge. “We didn’t have any problems whatsoever.”
Haley approached Barker via email last summer in the hopes of finding support through his transition. Barker helped spread Haley’s story and tried to get him support after the name change was denied.
Haley has 60 days to go back before the judge with a medical letter. He’s not sure why the judge singled him out for this case, especially after hearing about the ease so many other trans individuals had with the name change process. ”It blows my mind that people can have their name changed to whatever they want,” said Haley, “but when it comes to someone needing their name changed for their mental health, they get roadblocked.”
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