Home Politics Ohio Law Forces Transgender Candidate to Use Deadname on Ballot

Ohio Law Forces Transgender Candidate to Use Deadname on Ballot

Ohio Law Forces Transgender Candidate to Use Deadname on Ballot


Ari Faber has lived as a man for nine years. But because of a state law, Mr. Faber, a Democratic candidate for the Ohio Senate, will appear on ballots in a March primary election with a woman’s name.

The law, which was passed in 1995 to prevent deception, requires candidates who have changed names in the last five years to list previous names on election petitions. It has become an obstacle for Mr. Faber, who has not legally changed his name, and the three other transgender people seeking a seat in Ohio’s Legislature this year.

One candidate was disqualified for failing to do so; another saw her campaign challenged; a third campaign faced a disqualification hearing; and Mr. Faber was directed to run under his deadname, a term that transgender people use for a birth name that they no longer use.

The law’s uneven application across four counties comes as Ohio joins other states with Republican-controlled Legislatures in limiting transgender people’s access to what is known as gender-affirming care, while barring them from sports teams and public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities.

The confusion over the names law in Ohio also reflects how transgender people across the country are struggling to adapt to systems that had not accounted for their existence.

It has also created uncertainty. The candidates whose campaigns have been allowed to continue fear that another interpretation of the law could result in a disqualification later in the race, or a removal from office if elected.

Mr. Faber, 29, said that the Belmont County Board of Elections said that he must run as Iva Faber, the name he was given at birth but stopped using when he came out as transgender as an Ohio University student in 2016.

“I am a little bit concerned that supporters might be confused when they see my deadname on the ballot,” Mr. Faber said. “It’s frustrating, because it feels like Iva is a completely different person than I am now.”

Mr. Faber, the outreach director for an interfaith nonprofit in Athens, Ohio, said he had run print ads as Iva (Ari) Faber, but that his campaign was emphasizing his last name. (While Mr. Faber is running unopposed in the primary, he will most likely face State Senator Brian Chavez, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary, in the general election.)

Ohio’s names rule does not appear in Ohio’s 33-page candidate guide. All four candidates said they had not been aware of it when they submitted their petitions for certification, and they noted that there was no space on the petitions to list additional names.

Mr. Faber said that he learned of the rule in January after it was cited in another transgender candidate’s disqualification from a House race elsewhere in the state.

That candidate, Vanessa Joy, a real estate photographer in Stark County, Ohio, was disqualified from running as a Democrat for a seat in the state’s House of Representatives after submitting petitions without her previous name on them.

Ms. Joy appealed the disqualification to the Stark County Board of Elections, and lost. She said she was still working to have the law amended out of concern that if any of the transgender candidates prevailed in the November elections, they could be prevented from taking a seat because of the law. It states that a person elected under a changed name who has not disclosed a former name will be suspended from office.

The names rule was among more than 50 provisions enacted in 1995 as part of a state elections overhaul.

“The intent was simply that candidates can’t just change their name to hide a previous identity,” said Don Mottley, a former Republican member of Ohio’s House of Representatives who cosponsored the bill.

“There was absolutely no thought in my mind in dealing with someone who’s transgender because that wasn’t really on anyone’s radar back then,” he said.

Ohio’s secretary of state, Frank LaRose, who is running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate, has said that the law applies to every candidate, and that there are no plans to amend it.

But Ms. Joy called the law “a barrier to entry,” and said that transgender people often have their name-change records sealed out of fear of intimidation or violence.

“Society hates us so much that people find every possible way to attack us and threaten our lives,” she said.

After Ms. Joy was disqualified, she said, a local newspaper published her birth name. Afterward, a blogger published nude photographs of her and other personal information, including a bankruptcy filing under her birth name, provoking an onslaught of harassment on social media.

She argues that the law, which already includes an exemption for marriage, should also provide an exemption for those who fear that disclosing previous names would make them susceptible to violence.

Atiba Ellis, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said that the law appeared to be a “neutral requirement,” but that “selective enforcement of this law may be a cudgel.”

The ballot name issue has arisen amid fierce debates over transgender rights in Ohio. In December, the House passed a bill to ban minors from receiving puberty blockers, hormone therapy or gender transition surgery, and to require schools and colleges to separate student-athletes based on sex at birth.

Mr. Faber traveled to the Statehouse in Columbus to protest the bill, joining about 500 others in submitting testimony against it.

In December, Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who has sometimes been at odds with his party on transgender issues, vetoed the bill.

But as Republican leaders in the state’s House and Senate began lining up votes to override the veto, which they accomplished in January, Mr. DeWine seemed to pivot, issuing an executive order that bans gender transition surgeries for minors in the state.

After Ms. Joy’s disqualification from the House race, Mr. DeWine said he agreed that the law concerning previous names should be amended so that transgender candidates would not be excluded from elections for keeping their dead names off campaign paperwork.

Ms. Joy’s disqualification prompted reviews of the three other transgender candidates who were certified to run for state office this year.

Arienne Childrey, the founder of the Northwest Ohio Trans Advocacy, is running as a Democrat for a seat in the Ohio House. She wanted to challenge Rep. Angela King, a Republican from Celina, Ohio, who sponsored a bill that would make drag shows outside adult entertainment venues a criminal offense.

In September, Ms. Childrey, 41, led a protest against the bill on the county courthouse lawn.

In January, following news of Ms. Joy’s disqualification, the county’s Republican Party chairman challenged Ms. Childrey’s candidacy on the basis of the names rule. But the Mercer County Board of Elections decided that as a Republican, he was not an elector, and therefore had no standing for a challenge.

Ms. Childrey said that she doubts the challenge is over.

“Given the nature of politics in the state of Ohio,” she said, “I would argue that it’s almost guaranteed that if we were to win, they would attempt to refuse to seat us.”

In Montgomery County in southwestern Ohio, Bobbie Brooke Arnold, an independent contractor running as a Democrat for the state House, also faced a challenge following Ms. Joy’s disqualification.

Ms. Arnold said that voters in West Alexandria, Ohio, the village of 1,320 people where she lives, and in surrounding Preble County, where she helped organize the county’s first-ever pride event last May, were aware that she is transgender.

The director of the county’s board of elections determined that Ms. Arnold had not “misled” voters when she left her previous name off petitions, and ruled that she could appear on the ballot with her chosen name.

“I’ve been incredibly vocal about my trans identity,” Ms. Arnold said, “about who I am.”


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