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Oregon Appeals Court Okays Legal Change of Transgender Prisoner’s Name and Sex

by Jacob Barrett

On February 2, 2022, the Court of Appeals of the State of Oregon held that a lower court erred in denying a state prisoner’s petition for change of legal name or sex just because she was incarcerated.

The prisoner, Andrew “April” Jondle, is a transgender woman currently imprisoned by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) for 2010 convictions for aggravated murder and burglary. During her time in custody, “petitioner came to recognize and accept that the male gender marker assigned to her at birth did not match her innate female gender identity,” court filings recalled, so to “affirm her female gender identity and to facilitate her social gender transition,” she filed a petition to change her legal first name and her legal sex designation pursuant to ORS 33.410 and ORS 33.460.

In her petition, Jondle disclosed the 2010 convictions and provided her address as the DOC prison where she is incarcerated. She also attested, as required under ORS 33.460, that she had undergone “treatment appropriate to me for the purpose of affirming my gender identity.” Neither DOC nor any other state agency or district attorney’s office opposed the petition, nor any private party, either. Yet after it was submitted, the circuit court denied it without holding a hearing, saying the changes were “not in the public interest.”

Represented by Portland attorney Sara Kobak, with help from attorneys with the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Bend firm of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, P.C, Jondle appealed—still unopposed and now supported by amicus curiae briefs from Basic Rights Oregon, Beyond These Walls, Black & Pink PDX, Portland Community College’s CLEAR Clinic, and the Clackamas Indigent Defense Corporation.

After examining the legislative history of the state’s name-change statutes, the Court determined that a petition for change of legal name or sex may not be denied because of the petitioner’s status as a convicted or incarcerated individual; rather, a court may deny the petition only “where the record contains evidence that change of legal name or sex is sought for some purpose harmful to the wellbeing of the general public, including, but not limited to, fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation, evading creditors, or interfering with the rights of others.”

Under common law, “one may adopt any name he may choose, so long as such change is not made for fraudulent purposes,” the Court continued, citing Ouellette v. Ouellette, 245 Or. 138 (1966). Because neither the circuit court’s judgment nor the record contained any factual bases for determining that Jondle’s change of legal name and sex was inconsistent with the public interest, the Court therefore vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. See: In re Change of Name of Jondle, 317 Ore. App. 303 (2022). 

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Related legal case

In re Change of Name of Jondle