Transgender woman is disqualified from Ohio House race for not using her former name

A transgender woman said she was disqualified from running for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives because she did not disclose her former name.

Vanessa Joy, 42, a real estate photographer, had hoped to run as a Democrat and represent Ohio House District 50. That hope came to a premature end when she failed to include her former name, or what’s sometimes referred to as a “deadname,” the name a trans person was given at birth and no longer uses after their gender transition.

Vanessa Joy.Courtesy Vanessa Joy

Ohio law requires people running for political office who have changed their name within the last five years to include their former names on candidacy petitions. The law exempts people who have changed their name because of marriage, but it does not mention exemptions for trans people who have changed their names. Joy said she was unaware of the law until her disqualification.

It’s a barrier to entry for many trans and gender-nonconforming people,” Joy told NBC News on Thursday. “Where I personally would have just bit the bullet and allowed my deadname to be on the petitions and likely on the ballot, for a lot of trans people, they don’t want their deadnames printed. It’s a safety concern for many.”

Officials from the Stark County Board of Elections Office, where Joy submitted her petition to run for office, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Her disqualification comes days after the state made national headlines over transgender issues.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, vetoed a GOP-backed bill last week that would have restricted both transition-related care for minors and transgender girls’ participation on school sports teams. Joy noted that her stepfather, Ohio state Rep. Bill Roemer, a Republican, voted for the legislation.

DeWine’s veto was criticized by some Republicans in the state and beyond, including former President Donald Trump.

“DeWine has fallen to the Radical Left,” Trump wrote in a post on his social media platform, Truth Social. “No wonder he gets loudly booed in Ohio every time I introduce him at Rallies, but I won’t be introducing him any more. I’m finished with this ‘stiff.’ What was he thinking. The bill would have stopped child mutilation, and prevented men from playing in women’s sports. Legislature will hopefully overturn. Do it FAST!!!”

The veto is expected to be challenged by Ohio lawmakers in coming weeks.

Three other transgender candidates filed to run for the state Legislature last month, according to local outlet If any of these prospective candidates were to make it to the general election and win, they’d be the first trans state lawmaker in Ohio.  

Currently, there is only one trans elected official serving in the state — Dion Manley, a school board member in Gahanna, a Columbus suburb — according to the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, a political body that aims to elect LGBTQ to public office. There are 51 elected officials across the country who identify as trans women, trans men or trans nonbinary people, with eight serving in state legislatures and none serving at the federal level, according to the institute.

“I wanted to give millennials, Gen X and Gen Z the courage to get out and vote and to run for office themselves,” Joy said. “Because if they see a trans girl from very red Ohio running for public office, in a chamber full of people who despise me for my existence, they might have more courage to get out and vote and see that ‘maybe my vote will make a difference.’”

Joy said she filed a petition Thursday to contest her disqualification.

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