Appellate court overturns Ga. judge’s decision in transgender name-change case

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Last year, local Superior Court Judge David Roper denied the requests from two transgender men to legally change their names to the masculine names they now go by.

Last Friday, the Court of Appeals of Georgia unanimously overturned Roper’s decision, which means the men who filed the appeal, Rowan Feldhaus and Andrew Baumert, will soon have the names they go by recognized by the government.

In July 2015, the person formerly known as Rebecca Elizabeth Feldhaus filed a petition to change his name to Rowan Elijah Feldhaus, but Roper denied his request.

“I was angry about it because it was his own personal view getting in the way of his job,” Feldhaus said.

Roper said it would “confuse and mislead” the general public, suggesting the name change was a type of fraud. He offered the same opinion for Andrew Norman Baumert, formerly known as Delphine Renee Baumert, last January.

“It was very transphobic in a way of like, he didn’t recognize me as male, so he was like, ‘I can’t give you a male name if you’re really female’,” Feldhaus.

He said when someone asks for his ID and it says Rebecca Elizabeth, things get confusing. He said he also feels that these situations put him in danger.

“If they didn’t think I was me on the ID, you know they could have called the police,” he said. “They could have denied me service or anything.”

But soon, Feldhaus and Baumert won’t have to worry about that. A higher court unanimously overturned Roper’s decision, agreeing with Feldhaus and Baumert’s assertion that there is no evidence that were trying to change their names for fraudulent purposes.

“These are two men who have been waiting far too long for justice to prevail,” said Beth Littrell, the attorney from Lambda Legal who represented Baumert and Feldhaus.

Now, the higher court’s decision is being sent back to lower court’s decision, where they are expected to promptly sign off on it.

We did reach out to Roper, but he refused an interview request.

NewsChannel 6 asked Feldhaus what he would say to Roper if he had the chance. Feldhaus’ responded, “He shouldn’t abuse his power like he did.”

Feldhaus’ and Baumert argued in their appeal that “the trial court abused its discretion when it denied their petitions.” The higher court agreed. Now, he’s looking forward to be able to get on with his life, as Rowan Elijah Feldhaus.

“What I’m looking forward to is actually seeing my name on my diploma when I graduate,” he said.

The appeals court’s decision came early, nearly three weeks before oral arguments were set to be heard. Roper is retiring before his term is complete. His last day on the bench is Jan. 31. He will be replaced by District Attorney Ashley Wright.

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