As of 2016,approximately 1.4 million people in the United States identify as transgender. An important milestone in many of their transitions is legally changing their name and gender marker. However, the process can be overwhelming due to confusing regulations, high costs, and government bureaucracy. Transgender people are four times more likely to live under the poverty line, and many cannot afford the financial and time commitment necessary to obtain a legal change in name and gender designation. Fortunately, a number of organizations across the country have dedicated time and resources to provide such services through pro bono volunteers.
For example, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), a nonprofit committed to ending discrimination and achieving equality for transgender people, launched The Name Change Project in 2007 to help transgender individuals legally change their name and gender marker. Over the past ten years, many law firms and legal departments have volunteered with the Name Change Project to provide pro bono legal services, including The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation**, The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.**, and Viacom, Inc.** Currently, the Name Change Project serves individuals in Chicago, IL (Cook County), Milwaukee, WI (Milwaukee County), New York City, NY (all five boroughs/counties), Philadelphia, PA (Philadelphia County), and Pittsburgh, PA (Allegheny County). Pro bono attorneys meet with their clients to discuss the process, prepare and file the necessary documents for a name change petition, schedule and attend hearings, and assist with any other state requirements. With the help of an attorney, the name change process typically takes an average of four months to complete, and an average of 20 attorney hours.
Five years ago in Washington, D.C., Trans Legal Advocates of Washington (TransLAW) and Whitman-Walker Health worked together to begin offering free clinics to provide legal assistance with the name and gender marker change process. These walk-in clinics are now hosted monthly. Trained volunteers help transgender people obtain court orders and change drivers’ licenses, passports, birth certificates, and other identity documents and public records.
Transgender people can face many legal obstacles and pro bono attorneys can make a significant impact in overcoming those obstacles. The National Center for Transgender Equality maintains the Trans Legal Services Network Directory, a list of national, regional, and local organizations that provide legal help.
** denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
Hat tip to PBI intern Sahil Shah for his help with this post.