Pages Navigation Menu

Cobb Judge Denies Transgender Name Change (1999)

Cobb Judge Denies Transgender Name Change (1999)

©1999 by Laura Brown

Source: Brown, Laura. (1999, 26 September). Cobb judge denies transgender name change. Trans advocacy group attributes denial to “trickle down” effect from county’s anti-gay resolution. Southern Voice, p. 1, 222.

Cobb County, as Charles Dickens might have said, is a ass. It was particular a ass in the 1990s, when conversatives were running rampant in their little bastion of idiocy.

One would have thought they would have learned their lesson when the Olympic Committee refused to let the Olympic torch be run through Cobb County, but no! They had to go and pick on a woman who was pursuing a perfectly legitimate name change.


Southern Voice Article (PDF)


Cobb Judge Denies Transgender Name Change

Trans Advocacy Group Attributes Denial to “Trickle Down”
Effect from County’s Anti-Gay Resolution

By Laura Brown


Heather Lindsay, SoVo ArticleSlender, with reddish brown curls, dangling earrings, and painted toenails peeking out of stylish strappy sandals, Heather Lindsay no longer looks like someone with her legal name: William. But when Lindsay went to court last month to have her name changed to match the new gender she has been transitioning into for the last 18 months, Cobb County Judge Watson L. White flatly refused her request.

Lindsay recalls that, as she stood before White in court, the judge told her he could not approve changing her name from “William Edward Lindsay” to “Heather Jeanine Lindsay” because she would then be able to use women’s restrooms.

Lindsay said she tried to explain that the change would simply make the new life she is already living easier, but the judge did not change his mind.

The brief court document filed with the Aug. 16 ruling said White did not approve the name change because Lindsay “has not had sex change surgery.”

White did not respond to a request for comment.

But other transgendered people, as well as professionals who work with them, said judges in other jurisdictions routinely grant name changes without completion of sex-reassignment surgery.

In fact, the standards of care followed by most reputable professionals require a person to live full time in his or her new gender for at least a year before having surgery, and a transgendered person usually completes a name change fairly early in that process.

In addition, a growing number of transgendered people choose to delay or even avoid altogether ever having genital surgery. Some feel that reshaping their genitalia is not necessary to make them feel comfortable in their new gender. Others do not have the financial resources—few insurance companies pay for sex reassignment surgery—or have other medical conditions that would make surgery impractical.

So besides a laundry list of implications—the inconvenience of not looking like the name on your driver license, checks or insurance policy—changing names is also a key psychological component to the process of gender transition, explained Dr. Barbara Rubin, an Atlanta psychologist whose practice includes transgendered patients.

“The first thing we think of if we have children, or that our parents thought of when they had us, is what to name us. Aside from gender identity, at birth it is the most significant way we are labeled, and how we label ourselves,” Rubin said. “Along with those names and identities come gender roles and stereotypes, things that are applied to us and we apply to ourselves, so how we name ourselves is extremely critical.”

In the case of transgendered people, “it is important that we respect the new name and pronoun that people wish to be called, because that is their identity,” Rubin said. “It is what looks to us like a new gender identity, but for them it is what they feel like they have been all along.”

Lindsay expressed the same idea more simply: “My name is as important as the physical part to make me complete.”


A simple process

In general, hanging your name is usually a very simple legal matter—many heterosexual women, for example, change their last names back to their maiden names after getting divorced, and a growing number of lesbian and gay male couples are changing their last names to demonstrate commitment to each other.

Other people change their names for a variety of personal reasons: witness the musician formerly known as Prince, who legally changed his name to a symbol that can’t even be pronounced or reproduced by a standard computer keyboard.

The process isn’t particularly complicated, and while it can be easier to use an attorney, some people—like Lindsay—do the paperwork themselves.

According to Georgia code section 19-12-1, there are three main steps to legally change your name if you are an adult:

  • Present a legal petition to the county where you reside, “setting forth fully and particularly why the change is asked.”
  • Within seven days of filing the petition, have a notice of the filing “published in the official legal organ of the county once a week for four weeks.” The notice must include “the right of any interested or affected party to appear and file objections.”
  • Thirty days after the filing, and given proof that the notice has been published, the judge should set a court date, hear the petition, and render judgement.

Lindsay submitted her petition modeled after an acquaintance’s successful bid, and posted notices of her name change in the Marietta Daily Journal, the newspaper that publishes Cobb County’s legal notices. She said no one raised any objections to her petition, and the court document filed when White ruled against her notes that the name change was “uncontested.”

The law also stipulates that you cannot change your name “with a view to deprive another fraudulently of any right under the law.”

Lindsay insists “defrauding the government” is exactly what she was trying not to do when she took the chance of pursuing her name change in the courts of conservative Cobb County, where she lives with her father and brother.

“I could have used someone else’s address and done it in Fulton County, but I wanted to do it the right way,” she said.

Lindsay acknowledged that she could still take that approach, but said she instead wants to fight to change her name in Cobb because she knows other transgendered people in the county who will soon be facing their own name changes.

“When I left [the courtroom], I was pretty much up in arms, but I realized it could help everybody if I pursue it through the right channels,” she said. “If I broke ground, it would benefit everybody.” Lindsay said she has not decided whether to appeal the ruling, a process she said was more costly than refiling. Instead, she decided to talk publicly about her experience.


New name often ‘first step’ to changing legal sex

An aviation mechanic, Lindsay moved to Atlanta from California three years ago to live with her father after her mother died. Now 45, she began transitioning to female a year and half ago.

“All of these years, I’ve been this way, but I never could express myself. Now I’m happier with myself, and I like who I am,” Lindsay said.

Karen Collins, SoVo ArticleLindsay works for a major Atlanta-based airline, and said transitioning on the job has been “an even keel.” But Lindsay said she hoped changing her name would help make that process more “simplified”—”Things would be less complicated if my name went with what I look like,” she said.

It’s because of those complications that many who are transitioning from one gender to the other seek name changes early in the process, explained Karen Collins, Executive Director of-Trans=Action, Georgia’s statewide transgender education and advocacy group.

“Since you have to live for a year full time as your target gender  [before you can have surgery], it is kind of difficult to maintain that life with a name that is specific to the opposite gender,” Collins said. “So most people change their names at the time they are going full time.”

In Georgia, changing your name is the first step necessary to changing other legal documents, Collins said.

“This is really the baseline for your entire document change,” she said. “You need the name change granted by the court, then you can get your name changed on your driver’s license, which can be a point of difficulty. If you get pulled over and your license has a male name and a female picture, it can be very difficult to deal with police officers in certain areas of the state.”

After changing names in court and then on drivers licenses, Collins said people go on to change names on social security cards and “any other related documents.”

But changing your name from one associated with one gender to the other does not allow you to change the actual sex designation on documents like a drivers’ license or birth certificate, Collins said.

“Typically, what happens is you are required to have a letter from your surgeon stating that you have had surgery,” Collins said of the legal designation of gender change.

Most transgender people who have made a full-time transition but have not had surgery, then, would almost always still have identification where the sex designation and name don’t match.

“But fortunately, when you are in a store using your license as an ID, most people don’t pay attention to that one character [M or F], so that doesn’t generally cause all that much trouble,” Collins said.


Statewide trans group offers ‘education’

After White denied Lindsay’s name change, she contacted Trans=Action for help in fighting the case. “Judge White’s entitled to do what he wants to in his own courtroom, but if it’s not ethical than he needs education,” Lindsay said. “1 think he needs an education on name changes.”

Collins and Trans=Action member Dallas Denny, a longtime transgender activist, said they hope to provide that education not only to White, but to other government officials in Cobb County.

“We see it as an opportunity to provide some education, at least to this judge and maybe to the Cobb County Commission if it is necessary and appropriate,” Collins said. She called White’s reported objection that allowing Lindsay’s name change would allow her to use women’s bathrooms “totally irrational,” and said she knows another transgendered person who also had a name change rejected by White.

“This has happened more than once now, and we have a person who is willing to go through the pain of fighting it, and that is a key thing,” Collins said, noting that the other person denied by White chose to accomplish the name change “in other ways.”

“It is difficult to find someone who is willing to delay their name change to light the system,” Collins said.

Dallas, SoVo ArticleDenny said Trans=Action plans to send a letter about the problem to the Cobb County Commission within the next week. “I would like to give the Commission an indication of how their policies trickle down to affect citizens in negative ways,” she said.

While the County Commission did not rule on Lindsay’s name change, Denny attributed White’s decision to the atmosphere created by the commission’s 1993 resolution condemning “the gay lifestyle” as iricompatible with Cobb’s “community standards.”

“I think it all goes back to that silly anti-gay resolution. That basically serves as an instruction to all of the county’s employees that it is okay to treat anyone who is gender different or that they assume to be gay or bisexual anyway they want,” Denny said. “It gives official sanction to discrimination.”

The anti-gay resolution made national headlines and drew vehement protests, ultimately costing Cobb County participation in Atlanta’s 1996 Olympics. Some opponents of the resolution declared it dead when new commissioners were elected and did not reenact it, but the Cobb County Commission never publicly rescinded its stance.

Collins said Trans=Action is assessing other options if White and the county commission do not respond to educational outreach offers. “We have some ideas, but we prefer to try and approach issues in a constructive matter,” she said.

TransAction - GEA Logo