The importance of a name


Ken Ditlevson, director of the LGBTQ Student Center, and Cierra Williams, then graduate assistant, work in the LGBTQ Office on Wednesday Feb. 3, 2016. 

McKenna Corson

Over the years, members of the Kent State community have worked to make the campus more LGBTQ-friendly.

The LGBTQ Student Center, PRIDE!, Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have taken steps to transform Kent State into an institution welcoming for all. The most recent change for students was an addition to FlashLine allowing students to change their name to match their preferences.

This addition comes after years of complaints made by students, faculty and staff, as well as a number of organizations on campus. 

Ken Ditlevson, director of the LGBTQ Student Center, worked with the two organizations to make the change to FlashLine.

“We had students that were coming to our center that were really voicing dissatisfaction in not having the ability to change their name,” Ditlevson said. “Despite it being a low number of students potentially, it was really impacting those students greatly.”

PRIDE! and USG came together, creating a proposal outlining name changes, universal restrooms and gender inclusive housing last year with changes slowly developing.

Jimmy Bowen, junior sociology major and PRIDE! activism initiatives chair, gave background information behind the creation of the FlashLine name change.

“With a lot of trans students or gender nonconforming students, they come in with their birth name, but they don’t want to be called that when they come to college,” Bowen said. “These students would have a name they wanted to go by, but it was hard to communicate their name change with professors and people within the school. Now, students can just change their name and professors don’t have to know that they had an old name.”

By allowing students to change their name on FlashLine, it is done privately and easily.

The changes will appear on class rosters, Blackboard, FlashLine and the student directory. Students will still be referred to by their legal names on official transcripts, financial aid, bills and other important documents.

Bowen said the name change request takes up to two weeks to process. Students will be issued a free FlashCard with their new name as soon as the request is finalized.

“It was awesome to have PRIDE! and USG involved, because students’ voices really do have a strong impact at Kent,” Ditlevson said. “Sometimes students can have an almost louder voice than faculty or staff because of President Warren’s commitment to students.”

“With trans students, we want everyone at Kent State to be the happiest and comfortable as they could be anywhere,” Bowen said. “Calling them by the right name sounds like the simplest thing, but it can make someone’s day.”

The process behind legally changing one’s name is a bit more complicated than just logging into FlashLine, however. 

Equitas Health, a health care organization in Ohio devoted to assisting the LGBTQ population, assists people with the name and gender marker change process by holding clinics across Ohio.

Carly Edelstein, legal clinic manager for Equitas Health and organizer of the clinics, described the process behind name and gender marker changes and what assistance those who attend the clinics receive.

“We start off by going through the name change process with them, which, in the state of Ohio, requires the filing of the name change application with the probate court in the county where the applicant has resided for at least 12 continuous months,” Edelstein said. “Then, once they’ve filed the application and other documents per the county’s rules, they have a requirement that they publish notice of that application in the newspaper of general circulation in that county.”

Edelstein said that once the notice is published, the individual must go to a hearing before a probate or magistrate judge. The judge then asks questions in regards to why they want to change their name. Some questions are to make sure the person isn’t trying to avoid creditors.

“As long as the applicant has answered them accurately, then the name change will be granted and they get this certified copy of a court order,” she said.

After the judge approves the name change, a person can then go to the BMV to get an updated driver’s license or state ID, update their name through the social security database and receive a changed card and update or obtain a passport.

The gender marker change process is not accepted thoroughly as. Ohio is one of three states in America where one cannot change their gender on their birth certificate, according to Edelstein.

“In order to do gender marker change in Ohio and with the federal government, you have to have a doctor or licensed therapist who can fill out a form stating that you’ve had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition and that you intend it to be permanent,” Edelstein said.

For a gender marker change to appear on someone’s social security or passport, either a doctor with an M.D. or D.O. status has to write a letter attesting to the fact that you’ve had appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.

However, instead of moving in a direction where people in all states will be able to legally change their gender marker, just the opposite could happen within Trump’s presidency.

During Obama’s presidency, he passed an executive order allowing people to have their gender marker changed if a doctor wrote a letter declaring that someone was receiving appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition. This executive order only went through the executive branch and not Congress, making it easy for Trump to change this order.

“President Trump could just as easily change the rule as President Obama changed it from what it was under Bush to what it became under the Obama administration,” Edelstein said. “It’s not clear what it would be changed to or if it’s a priority of his at all, but we have heard that it is something that could change and make it more difficult within federal government. It’s very unclear whether this could ever happen, but we’re taking as many precautions as possible.”       

Edelstein encourages those wanting to change their name or gender marker to take advantage of the opportunity while Obama’s order stands, just in case.

Ditlevson said he looks forward to the future of improvement for Kent State’s LGBTQ population. Seeing organizations and individuals come together to fight for LGBTQ students is something he hopes to see more.

“It really made the case that it wasn’t just me on behalf of maybe five students who were really dissatisfied,” Ditlevson said. “When you have a whole group, it really just leverages things and makes it even stronger.”

McKenna Corson is the diversity reporter, contact her at [email protected].