Friends grieve death of transgender man who petitioned for name change

Supporters who celebrated with Rowan Feldhaus when he won a court battle to change his name to match his gender identity are grief stricken by his sudden death earlier this week.

 

Feldhaus, 25, was one of two transgender men whose petitions to change their legal names were denied by Superior Court Judge David Roper. Roper said their name choices were misleading or offensive, but in January the Court of Appeals of Georgia ruled against him, saying there was no evidence of improper motive.

A close friend, paralegal Meg Adams drafted Feldhaus’ name change petition. They expected the routine resistance in the local court, but Feldhaus was prepared to fight for his rights, Adams said.

“I know it was a very tough decision for Rowan to file the appeal – it was such a huge risk, but he was willing to potentially martyr himself,” she said. “The news we got back in January that the decision was reversed was a great celebration.”

Nothing prepared friends and family for his death, Adams said. Feldhaus had a hysterectomy last week at Eisenhower Army Medical Center as treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome. Within a few days, he was admitted to Augusta University intensive care in septic shock that cut off oxygen to his brain.

“It was a pretty routine procedure. He had no additional reason to be concerned. He was extremely healthy – he works out every day, he’s very conscious of his diet,” Adams said.

Born in German to a U.S. military family, Feldhaus grew up as Rebecca Elizabeth Feldhaus and graduated from Evans High School in 2010. His parents have been by his side, and friends had an opportunity to say goodbye at the hospital, Adams said.

Feldhaus graduated from basic combat training in 2011 but the Army reservist was changing course to a life of social advocacy, she said. He would graduate AU later this year and was “very, very active at school,” including with the Model United Nations and Student Government Association, she said.

“He was also a member of the Georgia Equality board and somehow found time to study and go to class and work out and go kayaking with me and have a part-time job,” Adams said.

Georgia Equality, the state advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied communities, expressed condolences.

“Though Rowan is no longer with us, the impact of his courage will continue to be felt by transgender and other gender non-conforming individuals in our state for many years to come. We are grateful for his work, and grateful we had the chance to know him,” the group said in a statement.

Augusta Pride honored “the journey, contributions, and selfless service of Rowan Feldhaus to the lives of the members of our CSRA family and wish his family and friends peace.”

Adams said condolences have come in from around the world.

“The response from people when we won his appeal in January was incredible and now it’s even more so,” she said. “It was incredible to see how many people were impacted by his life.”

Crossfit 706 in Martinez canceled classes Tuesday in Feldhaus’ memory and will have a celebration of his life Saturday.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced, but a “wand” ceremony will be held at 8 p.m. Monday in front of Payne Hall at AU to honor Feldhaus, a Harry Potter fan.

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

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