Hearing scheduled on trans boy’s request for a name change

Photo by Kelly Burkhardt

A judge in Lebanon County has scheduled a hearing for next month in the case of a trans boy who seeks to legally change his name so that it reflects his gender identity.

According to court records, S.E.M. “dresses and grooms as a male and presents as a male.” He’s 16 years old and has been requesting a name change for more than six months. S.E.M.’s mother supports the name change, but it’s unclear whether his father does.

Lebanon County is located about 70 miles west of Philadelphia, between Harrisburg and Reading.

On May 30, Lebanon County Common Pleas Judge Bradford H. Charles held a hearing on S.E.M.’s name-change request. According to an opinion he issued last month, “We heard that S.E.M. plans to relocate into a new school district and wishes to be known by a new male name within the new school district. In addition, S.E.M. will shortly be applying for a driver’s license. S.E.M. wishes to apply using a new male-typical name.”

However, Charles said another hearing is necessary before he can render a decision on the name-change request. The judge noted that S.E.M. hasn’t received hormonal therapy and that the wishes of S.E.M.’s father aren’t clear. The judge also emphasized in his opinion that he wants to issue a ruling that’s in the best interest of S.E.M.

The judge said his independent research has shown that trans youth sometimes revert to being cisgender when they get older. “Probably because transgenderism has only become a part of the public lexicon within this century, there are very few long-term research studies to guide the scientific community in diagnosing and treating adolescent gender dysphoria,” the judge wrote. “As one author put it, ‘We do not know what will happen in 20 years.’ A significant percentage of children [with gender dysphoria] eventually claim the gender of their birth.”

The judge said he wants to “conduct a more comprehensive inquiry of S.E.M. to determine the degree to which S.E.M. understands all of the implications of gender transformation.” 

Still, the judge noted that a legal name change could be reversed, if necessary.

“Unlike gender alteration surgery or even hormonal therapy, the change of a name can be relatively simply reversed, without any long-term physical implication,” the judge continued. “Given this context and given Pennsylvania’s liberal approach to name changes, we will certainly afford a sympathetic ear to the request of S.E.M. for a change of name.”

The judge scheduled another hearing for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 2 in Courtroom 3 of the Lebanon County Courthouse, 400 S. 8th Street in Lebanon. He allotted two hours for the hearing, which is tentatively open to the public. But an assistant to the judge told PGN it might become closed if a party to the litigation requests such. 

Bret M. Wiest, an attorney for the boy, declined to comment for this story.

Luke Debevec, a Philadelphia attorney who’s handled numerous name-change requests on a pro bono basis, expressed concern about the judge’s opinion. Debevec said the focus should be on the boy’s wishes, not the status of his physical transition.

“I just don’t think the status of a transition is relevant to a name change, and I would hope the child’s wishes are in the forefront of any analysis of the best interest of the child,” Debevec told PGN.