A transgender woman was disqualified from a race for the Ohio House of Representatives after failing to include her former name in election materials, leading to speculation that transgender candidates would face similar obstacles elsewhere.
Vanessa Joy, a real estate photographer running as a Democratic candidate in Ohio’s 50th District, was informed Tuesday in a letter from the Stark County Board of Elections that she had been disqualified from the race for the House of Representatives.
The council cited a State Law it requires a person running for office to list on the nomination petition any change of name within five years of an election, and it gave Ms. Joy until Friday afternoon to appeal.
Ms. Joy, who hopes to be among Ohio’s first openly transgender elected officials, said in an interview that she has appealed the board’s decision and plans to challenge the law in court.
“If I had known this law existed, I probably would have bitten the bullet and put my dead name next to my legal name,” she said, using a term for a person’s birth name transgender.
“I would have done it because I care enough to be able to participate in elections, but it will be a huge barrier to entry for transgender people,” she said, adding that many transgender people face their birth name sealed for security.
Ms. Joy noted in her appeal letter that Ohio’s candidate guide made no mention of the law and that the county election board raised no concerns when she submitted the dozens of signatures required for guarantee a place on the ballot.
She also argued that the law had been “unevenly applied.” At least two other transgender legislative candidates will appear on the ballot in Ohio this year, although they did not include their previous names in their election materials, according to the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, a national organization that supports LGBTQ candidates. The organization said it was unclear whether these candidates had changed their names in the past five years.
Ms. Joy, 42, grew up in a conservative Christian family. She came out as transgender two years ago after the death of her father, who she says would have disapproved of her decision to transition. She also left her job running the family manufacturing business to work as a photographer.
She said she chose to publicize her transition on social media and in a podcast as Republicans advanced a wave of nationwide measures restricting medical care for transgender people, regulating public restrooms that They can use and dictate which youth sports teams they can play on.
“Republicans have an absolute supermajority in Ohio, and I want to give other people my age the courage to come out and run or vote,” she said. “If they can see a trans girl in red from Ohio running for office, maybe they’ll say, Well, I can do that too.”
Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who specializes in voting rights, said Ohio’s law serves a practical purpose.
“The reason you would want to know a candidate’s past names is if they have something in their past that they were trying to hide, like a criminal history or embarrassing incidents,” he said. “Voters want to be able to judge their origins. »
However, in the history of voting rights in the United States, many laws that appeared neutral had the effect of being exclusionary, said Atiba Ellis, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
“In Ohio’s anti-transgender political environment, this disqualification raises the specter of fear that this could become a new mechanism of exclusion,” he said.
Melanie Amato, a spokeswoman for the Ohio secretary of state, said the office was aware of the disqualification.
“The law applies to everyone and there is no discussion to change this law at this time,” Ms. Amato said in an email.
A record number of transgender candidates ran for and won office last year, according to Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, and he expects that trend to continue in 2024.
Mr. Meloy said it was unclear how many states had laws like Ohio’s that could pose a barrier to such candidates.
As of 2017, there were no openly transgender lawmakers in the United States, according to an LGBTQ+ Victory Fund database. This year, at least 14 transgender people are serving in state legislatures.