What’s in a name? In the case of Evan Rockefeller, a lot.
The 26-year-old Rochester, New York teacher’s aide was born Sarah Rockefeller, but he has gone by Evan since he began to undergo gender transition over two years ago. The legal name change he applied for in November of 2005 was just one of the steps – along with taking hormones and living publicly as a man – that the medical profession widely agrees on and recommends as standard practice for people who are going through the process of gender transition.
Rockefeller, a nursing school student who sings with the Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus and volunteers for Metro Justice in his spare time, was excited about finally having a name that matches who he is and how he looks. He was especially looking forward to no longer drawing stares and questions when asked to show ID or when he fills out applications.
And since granting name change petitions for transgender people is routine in most courts across the U.S., Rockefeller was shocked when a New York judge rejected his application, demanding that he provide “medical evidence” of sex reassignment surgery.
Rockefeller’s attorneys, Sharon McGowan of the ACLU’s national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project and Elisabeth Benjamin of the New York Civil Liberties Union, say the judge’s demand for proof of surgery oversteps state law, which only requires that petitioners prove they aren’t changing their name to avoid prosecution, debts, or other obligations, or otherwise commit fraud. They also say that the judge violated Rockefeller’s right to medical privacy under the law by demanding he show medical records not required under the name change statute.
“I don’t think many people realize how often you’re forced to use your legal name in the course of your daily life,” Rockefeller said. “I get questioned every time I use my debit card. Whenever I have to call the gas company or the electric company, I have to sit there and listen to them call me ‘ma’am’ because my old name is on the account. I get hassled when I go through airport security. It’s frustrating, embarrassing, and sometimes makes me feel really unsafe to have to explain myself over and over again several times a day.”
At work, Rockefeller is required to sign or initial various forms and other paper work as many as 50 times a day using his old name. When he asked his bank for a new debit card, the bank refused, suggesting he simply use cash if he’s concerned about his safety when people notice the name on his card. “Would you feel safe carrying around large amounts of cash everywhere you go?” Rockefeller said.
In May of 2006, the Project and the NYCLU filed a new name change petition with the court on Rockefeller’s behalf. The judge again rejected the petition, and the ACLU plans to appeal Rockefeller’s case to the New York Appellate Division in early 2007.
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