This concerns the case of a transgender individual who was denied a name change petition, in violation of his civil and privacy rights. On May 25, 2006, the NYCLU Reproductive Rights Project (RRP) and the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project (LGBTP) filed a second petition on behalf of a transgender man seeking to change his name from Sarah Elizabeth Rockefeller to Evan Kyle Rockefeller to accurately reflect his gender identity.

In November 2005, New York State Supreme Court Justice William P. Polito denied the first petition to change his name on the grounds that Rockefeller had not presented "medical evidence" to justify the change. Justice Polito's ruling violates Rockefeller's right to medical privacy and other rights guaranteed under the Constitution by requiring that he demonstrate that he has had sex reassignment surgery before being granted the name change. This ruling also appears to adopt an inaccurate medical standard of care for transgender individuals. Moreover, the New York Civil Rights Law states that name changes should be granted as long as a petitioner is not attempting to escape criminal prosecution, debts, or other obligations, or otherwise commit fraud. Rockefeller, who has identified, lived, and dressed as a man and gone by the name Evan for several years now, meets these criteria. He seeks to change his name for the deeply personal and constitutionally protected reason that his new name better reflects his male gender identity.

In a memorandum in support of Rockefeller's petition, RRP and LGBTP argued that Justice Polito's 2005 denial contradicts New York State and federal law and policy in two ways. First, it imposes additional burdens on transgender name change petitioners that are not required by the law, which undermines civil rights laws as well as State and federal constitutional requirements that government treats its citizens equally. Second, these extra burdens infringe upon privacy rights protected by both New York Public Health Law and the U.S. Constitution. Forcing transgender name change petitioners to disclose confidential medical information sets a more difficult standard for transgender individuals to attain the same freedoms as others, and it defies New York's tradition of safeguarding patient privacy. On July 7, 2006, Justice Polito again ruled against Rockefeller's name change request. However, in January 2007, Rockefeller decided to move to Massachusetts, since that state’s laws make it is easier for people to change their names. After Rockefeller moved, the case was moot. 

State Supreme Court, Monroe County, Index No. 2006-6988 (direct) 


Galen Sherwin, director of the NYCLU Reproductive Rights Project