Ohio transgender candidate disqualified for not including former name

A transgender candidate for the Ohio House has been disqualified because she only circulated petitions with her legal name, instead of her former name — and it has put multiple other LGBTQ+ candidates in flux.

Vanessa Joy reached out to Scripps News Cleveland reporter Morgan Trau to share her situation. She was supposed to be a Democratic candidate for House District 50, covering Stark County, and she collected all the signatures she needed to run.

“The only thing that we can do is try to fight back and that’s why there are so many trans candidates in Ohio,” Joy said.

She is one of at least four trans women running for state representative. Each is running to fight against the growing number of anti-trans legislation.

Joy is also the stepdaughter of state Rep. Bill Roemer (R-Richfield), but the two do not have a relationship and have never met. Although the Republican hasn’t sponsored or cosponsored legislation impacting the trans community, he has voted in favor of legislation banning trans youth from having gender-affirming care and participating in athletics. He is one of the Republicans she wants to fight back against.

But she just learned she won’t be on the ballot.

“I would have had to have my dead name on my petitions,” Joy said. “But in the trans community, our dead names are dead; there’s a reason it’s dead — that is a dead person who is gone and buried.”

Dead names are the former names of many transgender people.

Even though Joy legally changed her name and her birth certificate — which she provided to the county board — a little-known law is preventing her from running due to when she changed her name.

A law from the 1990s requires all candidates to list on their signature petitions any name changes within five years, Case Western Reserve University elections law professor Atiba Ellis explained.

“It would be fair for the candidate to disclose their identity including prior names so that the people and their representatives in the state government would be able to vet that person and know exactly who they are,” Ellis said, providing insight into why the law may be in place.

Joy wished she had a heads-up.

“Something that is that important should have been on the instructions,” she said. “It should have been on the petition.”

Not only is there nowhere to put it on the petition, but it isn’t included in the secretary of state’s 2024 candidate guide. It hasn’t been on any candidate guides in recent years.

Scripps News Cleveland reached out to the office with numerous clarifying questions, like why the name change isn’t included in the 33-page guide, but did not hear back.

“If it is selectively enforced, that raises the question of whether the use of such provisions would be discriminatory,” Ellis added.

At least two of the other trans candidates running also didn’t know the law, and didn’t include their dead names, but both were certified by their boards.

There is an exception that says the law doesn’t apply to marriage name changes, but since it isn’t well-known, Scripps News Cleveland checked with dozens of lawmakers anyway. We asked married lawmakers if they had any issues when they changed their names, but all had been married for longer than five years.

“Do you think that this law will prevent trans people from running in the future?” Trau asked Joy.

“Yes, I think it will — undoubtedly,” Joy responded.

It is unclear what will happen to the other candidates, but Joy has until Friday to appeal.

This story was originally published by Morgan Trau at Scripps News Cleveland.