NJ Appeals Court sides with transgender man

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Silhouette of people with transgender flag colors
Trans, image by Gerd Altmann

Lower Court ruling reversed in the appeal

A New Jersey appeals court sided unanimously with a transgender man who sought to keep his name change private. In 2020, Mercer County Judge William Anklowitz ruled that the man, identified in court documents as A.B.C., must disclose his name change and dead name in a newspaper. The lower court judge refused a request to seal court records, which would avoid a public disclosure of the man’s name and transgender identity.

Superior Court Judge Michael J. Haas wrote for the three-judge appellate panel, which unanimously agreed that transgender people deserve privacy and protection from emotional and physical harm that can come from publicizing their name changes. The ruling also says that Anklowitz was wrong when discounting the fears A.B.C. had about harm coming to him if it were discovered that he is transgender.

The Mercer County judge had required that A.B.C. show that he’d either experienced violence or discrimination because of his gender identity or he had to cite data for transgender-related violence in the Garden State.

“It is difficult to imagine a more intimate, personal, and private matter than whether a person’s gender identity conforms with the sex they were assigned at birth, typically based upon the existence and appearance of their reproductive organs, and their chromosomal makeup,” the Superior Court ruling said.

Two months after Anklowitz’s ruling—in December of 2020—the New Jersey Supreme Court eliminated the requirement that name change applications and judgements be published. It was cited then that the need to protect the privacy and safety of transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary residents who change their names to better align with their gender identity. An appeal was made to Anklowitz, who in January 2021, steadfastly refused to seal A.B.C.’s name change filing.

“By requiring the appellant’s name change application to be publicly available, and thereby publicly identifying appellant as transgender, the court would violate appellant’s right to privacy and could heighten the risk of physical harm to appellant, or even facilitate such harm by making it easier for people to identify him as transgender,” Haas said.

Anklowitz is no stranger to making decisions against those in the LGBTQ community. In 2016, he made disparaging comments about a lesbian couple who had filed a civil suit in the death of their toddler daughter in 2009.

Valerie Benning and I’Asia Moreland, who couldn’t legally be wed when they initially got together and Moreland’s daughter I’Maya began calling Benning ‘mom’. Benning was holding I’Maya’s hand when she was killed by a pickup truck that had been hit by a Trenton fire truck while waiting to cross NJ Route 129 to see Disney on Ice at the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton.

While hearing their case, Anklowitz called their relationship “family-ish” and suggested the couple should have married in a different state that had recognized same-sex marriages. This had effectively dismissed Benning’s claim of emotional distress because she wasn’t a blood relative. New Jersey legalized same-sex marriage in 2013. In summation of his ruling, Anklowitz said, “just using the word ‘mom’ all by itself doesn’t count for much.”

An appeals court overturned Anklowitz’s decision in August of 2018, with the three-judge panel citing the 1980 case Portee v. Jaffee, the first to recognize emotional-distress liability in the state.