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Legally Changing Names Easier for Transgender New Yorkers

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RitzenbergOn Wednesday a panel of three judges on a New York State appeals court ruled unanimously to reverse the decision of a lower court which had barred Olin Yuri Winn-Ritzenberg, a self-identified transgender man, from obtaining a legal name change.

According to the Gothamist blog, Civil Court Judge Manuel J. Mendez denied Winn-Ritzenberg’s request last February based on the absence of documentation confirming the need for a name change from a physician, psychologist, or social worker.

The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund helped connect Winn-Ritzenberg with a lawyer to handle the legalities of the request through its Name Change Project. Upon receiving Mendez’ ruling, TLDEF filed an appeal on Winn-Ritzenberg’s behalf.  TLDEF executive director Michael Silverman argued in the appeal that “while most name change petitions sail through the court system, Olin’s was denied because he is transgender.”

The New York Times’ CityRoom blog, one of the few mainstream blogs to cover the case, reported that about 10 other Manhattan residents have previously approached TLDEF after having their name-change petitions denied for the same reason.

In TLDEF’s press release in May, Winn-Ritzenberg voiced a sentiment that many transgender petitioners identify with in these cases:

“My gender transition has been a very personal journey, and no one is in a better position to decide that I need to change my name than I am.  It’s also important to me to protect my privacy.  I don’t want my medical records in a public court file.”

Wednesday’s brief but powerful Appeals Court ruling insisted upon equal treatment of transgender petitioners, stating:

“There is no sound basis in law or policy to engraft upon the statutory provisions an additional requirement that a transgendered-petitioner present medical substantiation for the desired name change." 

In its most recent press release, TLDEF lauds Winn-Ritzenberg for choosing to fight this legal battle rather than complying with the court order, thereby “ending the practice of subjecting transgender name change applicants to this burdensome and demeaning doctor’s note requirement.”

This ruling will not necessarily bear weight in cases of filing for a legal gender change, but will ensure that transgender people in New York have equal access to legal name changes in the future.

The Advocate quotes Winn-Ritzenberg as saying, “This ruling means that I can finally change my name and move forward with my life.”

GLAAD will continue to keep you updated with the latest media coverage of these and other exciting victories for the LGBT community.