When Lex Rigby, 17, and his family entered a West Jordan courtroom this summer, they had hoped to leave happy. It was a moment the teen had been anticipating for a long time. “I was pretty excited. I wore a suit and everything,” Lex said.
But as the judge read and explained his ruling on the family’s request for Lex to be granted a name and gender marker change, the Rigbys were shocked. Judge Bruce C. Lubeck, of the Third Judicial District Court in West Jordan, granted Lex a name change to his birth certificate, but denied the request to change his gender marker to male.
Less than 30 days earlier, the teen’s parents petitioned on Lex’s behalf for a birth certificate change. Three years before that, Lex had begun hormone therapy as part of his transition after an emotional experience of coming out as a transgender man.
Although it was difficult, Lex’s parents have supported him all the way. After years of worrying about Lex’s depression, anxiety and threats of suicide, the Rigby’s understood what their son needed to be happy.
“Once we found out the reason behind it [the threat of suicide], it just wasn’t that big of a deal to us,” said Lex’s father, Sean Rigby. “We would rather have a happy kid than not have our child.”
Shortly after Lex came out as trans, Lex’s outlook on life seemed to improve. And although some of the anxiety remains, the Rigbys rallied behind their son and brother. Lex received counseling from the Utah Pride Center, and his parents asked their friends and family for support.
Sean wrote a Facebook post asking friends and family not to misgender Lex. “This is Lex, and Lex is choosing to live his life as a guy. If you can’t accept it, then move on.”
After coming out, Lex’s next step was to request the state of Utah to officially recognize his name and gender. Finally, he’d have the chance to live his life openly, the way he sees fit. Lex’s lawyer, Josh Peterman, helped the family with their petition.
The Rigbys entered the West Jordan courtroom, holding each other’s hands, hopeful for a positive decision. But their feelings eventually changed to horror.
The Rigbys said they felt unfairly judged and unwelcome, and were particularly shocked at Judge Lubeck’s rationale for the denial. At one point, Lubeck compared Lex’s petition to someone requesting to change their name to Adolf Hitler, said Sean.
“We sat there just flabbergasted going, ‘Did he just make a reference to Hitler?’”
Ultimately, the judge explained that “he couldn’t in good conscience change a gender marker for Lex,” Sean said. The judge’s final words to Lex were “I seriously hope this won’t offend you.”
Lex’s experience follows one in a similar story recently reported by the Salt Lake Tribune. Angie Rice and Sean Childers-Gray were both denied gender marker changes in Utah courts this summer, but by a different judge.
Although the Rigbys suspect Judge Lubeck’s decision was based on a personal – potentially religious – interpretation of the law, Peterman said that judges have broad discretion in interpreting statutes. When asked whether the cases represent an emerging trend in the Utah judicial system, Peterman was skeptical. Lubeck saw ambiguity in the law, he said.
The judge appeared to take issue with one portion of the statute that mentions sex reassignment surgery. Still, Peterman argues that the interest of the child should have taken precedence. And according to Peterman and the Rigbys, nobody but the judge stood in opposition to the gender marker change.
Despite the disappointing result, Lex remains committed to challenging the court’s decision. “I don’t cry, I just get angry,” he said.
The Rigbys filed an appeal of Judge Lubeck’s ruling and are prepared to take their case to Utah’s Supreme Court if necessary. The process could take more than a year. But according to Peterman, Lex may have an additional option. Because he soon turns 18, Lex may be able to file on his own as an adult.
Regardless of the outcome, Lex’s family is standing behind him as the teen takes the lead. Lex is willing to help others like him navigate Utah’s courts and earn the rulings they believe they deserve.
“We’re willing to take the gamble,” said Sean.
In the meantime, Lex may face certain challenges because of the mismatch between his identity and legal documents. His passport, which is marked female, has already made international travel a challenge. “If we end up traveling out of country [and] a female passport is shown, questions arise and it becomes difficult,” said Sean.
But Lex will carry on, and he not only wants to change the court’s decision in his case, but for others like him, too.
“I don’t want it to happen to someone else,” he said. “Because I feel I have the right to. Because I can.”