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Transgender Ohio Statehouse candidates line up behind bill allowing people to run under legal name

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Transgender Ohio Statehouse candidates line up behind bill allowing people to run under legal name

May 15, 2024 | 4:55 am ET
By Nick Evans
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Transgender Ohio Statehouse candidates line up behind bill allowing people to run under legal name
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Ohio's three transgender candidates for the Ohio House received different results for qualifying for the ballot after they all mistakingly broke an obscure law that the Boards of Elections didn't know about. Arienne Childrey (L), Vanessa Joy (M) and Bobbie Arnold (R) all say the law should be applied equally. (Photos provided. Graphic by WEWS.)

This year a handful of transgender candidates filed to run for state office in Ohio, but they faced challenges to their candidacies over the names they used on their paperwork. Under Ohio law, candidates must list any prior name they’ve used in the last five years on their petitions.

Notably, the form itself makes no indication of this requirement. Instead, it presents an, “I, the undersigned…” style paragraph with a single blank space for the candidate’s name. In italics at the top of the form, it lists several sections from Ohio Revised Code chapter 3513 including every section from 3513.05 to 3513.10, except 3513.06.

The prior name provision shows up in 3513.06.

State law makes an exception for marriage, and Reps. Michele Grim, D-Toledo, and Beryl Piccolantonio, D-Gahanna, want to add any other legal name changes. As part of their transition, many people within the trans community abandon their given “deadname” just as they turn the page on their previous gender identity.

“If candidates have gone through the effort to legally change their name in a court of law in our state,” Grim asked in her written testimony, “why must we deny them the ability to run for office using that same name?”

Ohio trans candidates spur Dem bill to protect them and GOP bill they say unfairly targets them

Some, but not all, of the trans candidates who faced protests this year have been cleared to appear on the ballot. Two of them, Arienne Childrey and Bobbie Arnold, are now running against Republican officeholders advancing a bill to make it easier to kick candidates off the ballot in the future.

Reps. Angie King, R-Celina, and Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria, want to allow voters of either party to be able to challenge primary candidates. Under current law only voters from that candidate’s party may file protest. In written testimony, King defended the requirement for including previous names.

“The prior name requirement prioritizes transparency,” she insisted. “Allowing voters to check backgrounds for liens, judgements, bankruptcy, voting history, criminal history, etc. which empowers voters to make informed decisions.”

She also insisted that should her opponent defeat her in November, the courts would throw out the election over of the lack of prior names on her declaration paperwork. To allow that candidate to stand for election, is “disingenuous,” King asserted. Allowing voters from either party to object, she argued, would prevent that from happening.

“Anything but a secret”

King’s opponent this November is Arienne Childrey. In committee Tuesday she explained she got a court order to change her name in July of 2020, but had been using the name in public since 2017. As Childrey described it, she worked as a manager at a large retail store supervising more than 200 employees.

“Now, I’m sure many of you are familiar with the dynamics and small towns in Ohio,” she said, “And regardless of how you feel on this subject, I think you can all understand that that transition, that prior name change and transition, was anything but a secret in that community.”

Childrey explained she went forward with the legal process for practical reasons — to avoid confusion on work schedules which used her deadname. Neither her court paperwork nor public notices about the case are sealed.

While she expressed some sympathy with the intent of keeping individuals from hiding their past, she argued the statute doesn’t really make it clear how she can ensure she’s in compliance.

“Now, my married name would be exempt from this provision; my dead name is not,” she said. “So, I don’t even know, am I supposed to include my dead first name with my maiden name since I was using it at the time? Or, since my married name doesn’t count, do I include my married name in that on the — it becomes very confusing.”

Prior court cases aren’t much help either, she explains. The 1950 case Rep. King invokes to insist her opponent wouldn’t be able to hold office, also holds that individuals can change their name without going to court so long as the change isn’t for “fraudulent purposes.”

“If we look to the date that I began using the current name, I’m in compliance,” Childrey explained. “If we look to the date that I resorted to a judicial proceeding, I’m not.”

Vanessa Joy told the committee, “I am probably the reason that we’re here today.” Unlike Childrey and Arnold, her candidacy in Stark County was disqualified by the board of elections. She described being heartbroken when the board called to inform her she had gathered the required signatures but would be kept off the ballot anyway.

“Two other candidates across the state also submitted their petitions being unaware of this law,” she explained. “Stark county disqualified me, but their counties allowed them to continue running. This meant that the law is being upheld unevenly.”

Bobbie Arnold described how involved the name change process is with Ohio courts — proving residency, a valid reason, disclosing financial and criminal history and then publishing notice in a local paper for 30 days. Rep. Richard Brown, D-Canal Winchester, asked if she knew whether recently married candidates had to disclose a maiden name, and Arnold reiterated that they don’t because of the exception for marriage.

“Well if a married woman is not required to list her maiden name,” he asked rhetorically, “how in the world do we find out about her past?”

The judicial candidate

While trans candidates prompted the dueling bills, the impact extends beyond them. Alliance Law Director Caitlyn Weyer has been with her romantic partner for 14 years. Although she considers him her husband, they aren’t married and have no intention of doing so. But in 2020 she changed her name to Weyer to match his.

About a year later, she was appointed to serve as the city’s law director and then won an election to fill the unexpired term. She got reelected in 2023 and even filed to run for judge in Stark County this year, before anyone raised her previous name as potential problem. It came as an anonymous tip to the newspaper. Weyer described asking several local judges and a Franklin County attorney with decades of experience and no one had ever heard of the requirement.

“I would have gladly complied had I known,” she said, “but again, it’s not in the guidebook. It’s not even a place on the petition.”

Weyer explained the second half of prior name statute left her with a “very big decision.” The law requires a person elected without providing their prior name to be suspended and held liable for any salary they collected.

So she resigned her post and ended her candidacy. The mayor quickly reappointed her as law director and the local Republican Party voted to allow her to complete the term.

But Weyer argued the provision still doesn’t make sense. For instance, while it carries an exception for marriage, it says nothing about divorce. She also played out a “what if” scenario where a judge in her situation gets elected, and this issue came up five and a half years into their term. They could be removed from the bench, and ordered to pay back their full salary despite the fact they were now beyond the five year look back for previous names.

“The intent of this law is to ensure that voters know who you are and know your background, but I truly don’t understand it,” Weyer explained. “It only goes on your petition. It doesn’t go on the actual ballot itself. I understand your petition is a public record, but so is my name change, it seems to serve no purpose to me.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.