Transgender council member's name change draws objections

BY admin

February 18 2005 1:00 AM ET

A Rapid City, S.D., council member born with the name Tom Murphy now goes by Marla Marissa Murphy. The legal name change is one of the steps Murphy has taken to match her gender. The new name was granted at a Tuesday court hearing that started the process of changing her diplomas, Social Security number, checking account, mortgage, credit cards, and other documents. "I had to change my name to start all that," Murphy said. "The rest is going to take a while."

There was one objection. Mark Kirkeby, a Pennington County commission member who lost to Murphy in a 2001 city council race, wrote a letter to the judge. Kirkeby said Murphy's nominating petition stated his name was Tom Murphy, not Marla Murphy, and listed "alderman" as the office being sought. Kirkeby said he thought he had given circuit judge John J. "Jack" Delaney enough reason to deny the name change. Murphy "was elected to be a councilman, not a councilwoman," Kirkeby said. The city voters should have had the chance to vote on the person who represents them on the council, Kirkeby said. "We did not elect Marla Murphy."

Murphy laughed when told of Kirkeby's objections. "It's sad there are people like that that think that way," Murphy said. "And it's sad he's a politician." Judge Delaney said Murphy is "the same person, the same personality, the same id, if you will." Delaney said he carefully considered Kirkeby's objection but did not think that someone having a contrary opinion was enough reason to deny the name change.

Murphy started the process of changing gender more than a year ago. The transition will not happen until after Murphy completes her term on the council. The term expires in June, and she has decided not to run again. In an interview last year with the Associated Press, Murphy said she has known since age 18 that she wanted what is called gender-reassignment surgery. Murphy said she probably would not be ready for the surgery for several years. To qualify, she must live as a woman for a year and get the approval of a psychiatrist.

Murphy said the name-change process was fairly simple. It required four legal notices, a petition to the court, and a hearing that took about five minutes. Murphy said people should talk to her about the process she is going through. "The only way people are going to learn is by asking questions," she said. Murphy, a never-married 49-year-old retired Air Force master sergeant, has an undergraduate degree in industrial technology and a master's in counseling and human development.

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