A Tennessee appeals court says a Williamson County judge was wrong to reject a transgender teen’s petition to change his legal name.
The judge had apparently determined that the teen and his parents failed to make the case for the name change. But in a ruling released Tuesday, a three-judge panel declared there was plenty of evidence for it.
According to testimony summarized in their 14-page opinion, the teen was a 16-year-old who’d been using his new name socially for more than a year. But in official contexts, he was still often forced to use his birth name — a situation he described as “saddening.”
He, his parents, his doctor, his therapist and a teacher all gave statements arguing a name change would be in his best interest.
Tennessee law generally lets people change their names, and past rulings have stated that the courts should not interfere without compelling reasons. Those who’ve committed murder or a sexual offense can be denied, and so can people planning fraud or acting in bad faith.
Nonetheless, Williamson County Circuit Court Judge Deanna B. Johnson twice rejected the teen’s request. The first rejection came without even asking for a hearing.
But the appeals court says it had no basis for turning down the teen’s request. Writing for all three jurists, Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr., says that, in fact, all of the evidence suggests the teen will be better off if his new name were made official.
He specifically notes testimony that the teen has a clinical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, as well as statements that the use of his birth name was causing anxiety.
“Petitioners presented three witnesses and the statements of three professionals, all of which stated unequivocally that the requested name change is in the child’s best interest,” the judge writes. “The child has committed no crimes, and there is no evidence of intent to defraud or mislead, of not acting in good faith, or of the possibility of injury to an individual, or of a compromise to the public’s safety if the petition is granted.”
Therefore, the court says, Williamson County has no choice but to grant the teen’s request.