by Ken Schneck, Editor
Proving once that LGBTQ+ youth will one day save us all, a 17-year-old high school student has coordinated an effort to collect over 135,000 signatures in protest of Ohio’s ban on trans individuals changing the gender marker on their birth certificate.
Jack Henning-Sepkoski is a student at The Chicago Academy for the Arts studying theatre. Though he may physically reside a few states over, he admits a strong affinity with his Ohio birthplace. And it’s a logistical connection too, one he discovered in 2020 when the trans teen and his parents explored changing the gender marker on his birth certificate, something expressly forbidden by Ohio.
Jack leapt into action and created a change.org petition to “help change Ohio’s regressive, discriminatory transgender birth certificate policy.” The effort quickly went viral and amassed well over 100,000 signatures in just a month’s time.
Though a recent court decision has ruled against Ohio’s ban on changing the gender marker on birth certificates, the changes have not yet been implemented and Ohio still has a chance to appeal the decision. So Jack continues to lead the charge by collect more signatures.
The Buckeye Flame spoke with this inspiring teen about his Ohio roots, his passion for creating change, and how his fellow youth can wield their voices to make a difference.
Tell us your Ohio backstory.
I was born in Lorain, Ohio and lived in Oberlin. My parents both work at Oberlin College. I lived in a blue house with red bricks on the bottom and had a dog. That was when my parents were together. When they got divorced, I moved to Chicago with my mom when I was three-years-old. But I have always loved Ohio. Ohio is this place that represents all the nostalgia and my parents being together and everything good.
How did Ohio’s ban on changing the gender markers on birth certificates come into your awareness?
Recently when my parents were trying to see if I could change my gender marker on my birth certificate, they realized that I couldn’t because I was born in Ohio and Ohio was one of two states at the time did not allow for the change in gender marker. That was very disappointing. So I made my petition and put it out there a little more than a month ago.
What were your goals in putting together the petition?
Making this change to birth certificates is a very important step is helping the dysphoria that many trans people feel. And it could help with legal documents. My goal was to raise awareness so that myself and trans people everywhere could feel like they are recognized as what they identify as, and also feel respected.
What was it like when hundreds, then thousands, and then over a hundred-thousand signatures started pouring in?
I honestly thought I would get 100 signatures and they would all be the kids at my school. Right now, the petition is at 135,778 which is incredible. I never dreamed that this could happen. Amidst all of this terrible news that you find in the world, this was making me feel like, “You know what? There are really good people out here and they just care about other people.” I know there are people who signed this who aren’t trans. They just care about trans people. And it was really beautiful to see that. Through this petition, I got to witness the beauty of the human spirit.
Then, great news! A federal court struck down the ban.
It really was amazing news. Ohio can still appeal if they feel like they still really want the ban to happen. If Ohio chooses to appeal that would be bad news, but as it stands right now, everything looks great. And it seems like we’re really on the path to change this discriminatory policy.
What would it mean for you to have the gender marker on your birth certificate changed?
Oh man. It would mean that I could be recognized as a male and that would just be amazing to feel. When I look in the mirror, I see a man. I get misgendered sometimes and I’m like, “You can’t tell?!” Having [the gender marker on my birth certificate change]would be society recognizing that I am male, and that would feel indescribably amazing.
Society doesn’t always value the contributions of young people. What do you have to say to your peers who want to create change?
It’s really hard when people say that’s it’s all on young people when it seems like, “C’mon, you have more power than we do.” But sometimes it takes a young voice to be the voice of reason. I think we probably unlearn things as we get older. I think we start off brilliant. But we have an intuitive kindness. Babies don’t hate people. We’re so in tuned to this beautiful thing and it is a gift to share it. Don’t ever doubt that you can do something amazing because you are amazing just by existing.
- Sign the petition to keep the pressure on Ohio to enact this important change to allow trans individuals to change the gender marker on birth certificates.
Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame. He is the author of Seriously, What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew (2017), LGBTQ Cleveland (2018), LGBTQ Columbus (2019), and LGBTQ Cincinnati (2020). In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.