N.Y. Court Slams Doctor’s Note Requirement for Name Change

A New York appeals court yesterday issued a two-page ruling overturning a lower court’s requirement that a transgender man present medical documentation supporting his petition for a name change. The NYC-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented the petitioner, said in its press release:

[T]he appellate court wrote, “[t]here 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.” The court’s decision sends a powerful message that transgender people must be treated equally and that they cannot be subjected to different legal requirements than everyone else. People’s names are fundamental to their identities. This decision confirms that each one of us has the right to be known by a name we choose. That decision can’t be second-guessed by doctors, therapists or anyone else simply because someone is transgender.

Upon learning of the ruling, Olin [Winn-Ritzenberg, the petitioner,] said, “This means that I can finally change my name and move forward with my life. 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 well settled in law around the country that transgender folks can follow the same simple procedures for name change as individuals who are changing their names because of marriage, religious conversion, or for any other reason. Yet, around the country, judges periodically try to make it harder for trans people than for anyone else. Despite numerous prior New York court decisions supporting the right of transgender individuals to change names without meeting any special requirements, this particular lower court had been imposing the “doctor’s note” requirement routinely on transgender individuals. While most individuals were able to comply, TLDEF appealed in this case to get rid of this requirement once and for all. Kudos to them, and to the numerous other lawyers who assisted in this appeal, including Lambda Legal.

The terse decision concludes with the unnecessary statement, which has somehow become boilerplate for New York courts, that the grant of a name change is not legal proof of change of gender.

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