In This Issue
- Executive Director’s Message
- TLDEF Memorial Day Op-Ed Spotlights Discrimination Against Transgender People in U.S. Armed Forces
- TLDEF Partner Law Firms & Legal Departments Donate Over 7500 Hours of Free Legal Services in 2013
- TLDEF Honors Laverne Cox, Edie Windsor, Viacom and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher at Ninth Anniversary Benefit
- Meet Our New Summer Interns!
- TLDEF Wins Two Significant Name Change Victories in New York
- Final Settlement in the Coy Mathis Case in Colorado
Executive Director’s Message
We hope you had a relaxing and reflective Memorial Day weekend. Yesterday, I was honored to offer my thoughts in The Advocate about the transgender men and women who died serving our nation in silence. It is long past time to end regulations that bar open military service by transgender people. You can read more about my commentary below.
As we wind our way to the end of spring and look ahead to Pride, we would like to take a moment to update you on our advances in transgender equality over the last few months. This vital work on behalf of transgender people across the nation would not be possible without you.
In this newsletter, we’ll recap our recent benefit celebrating TLDEF’s nine years of work for transgender rights. On that special night, we were thrilled to honor actress and activist Laverne Cox, marriage equality pioneer Edie Windsor, and the pro bono transgender advocacy work of Viacom and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.
We’ll also report on two significant name change victories we recently achieved in New York on behalf of transgender women who faced discrimination in the court system. And we’ll share news about a final settlement agreement in the landmark Colorado case involving 6-year-old Coy Mathis, who last year won the right to use the girls’ bathroom at her elementary school. In addition, you’ll learn about how a municipal ID card would help transgender people in New York City and why we are educating the City Council about it.
You’ll also hear about how you can help raise money for TLDEF using a unique new credit card, meet our summer interns, and learn about our work with Human Rights Watch on a documentary about transgender former Navy SEAL Kristen Beck. We’ll also share information with you about the tremendous amount of pro bono support we received from the legal community last year and how it has helped expand our work. And finally, we’ll share with you the positive news coverage we’ve been garnering for our latest work.
Wishing you a wonderful end to spring and looking forward to connecting with you during Pride season. Thank you for your continued support!
To commemorate Memorial Day, TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman published a moving op-ed in The Advocate, paying tribute to the transgender men and women who died serving our country in silence. This gist of his commentary: Allowing open military service by transgender people is long overdue. While the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy lifted the ban on military service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, transgender service members are still barred from serving because of medical regulations that are biased and out of date. Silverman touched on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recent comments on a Sunday morning political program indicating that the regulations “continually should be reviewed,” while urging him to turn that rhetoric into action. He also bought up numerous other examples that illustrated why this discrimination must end. You can read the full op-ed here.
In 2013, TLDEF’s partners in the legal community donated over 7,500 hours of free legal services to support our work. Valued at millions of dollars, our partners’ pro bono support helped us secure victories for transgender equality across the nation, and amplified our ability to meet the community’s needs through signature services like the Name Change Project. “Our legal partners have helped us increase our reach and leverage our limited resources,” said TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman. “To put their donations into perspective, it’s as if they supplied us with four additional attorneys for our staff. We are extremely grateful for their generosity and commitment to changing lives in the transgender community.”
TLDEF Honors Laverne Cox, Edie Windsor, Viacom and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher at Ninth Anniversary Benefit
On May 19, we celebrated nine years working for transgender equal rights at our annual benefit. Hundreds of people turned out to help us raise over $200,000 to support our mission. We are grateful for the support of our friends and sponsors. We’ve posted photos from the event here.
This year we honored Laverne Cox, star of the hit series “Orange is the New Black” and incredible advocate for transgender equality, as well as Edie Windsor, the marriage equality champion who challenged the Defense of Marriage Act and won.
In addition, we paid tribute to Viacom for its commitment to corporate social responsibility and support for one of our most important initiatives, the Name Change Project. Viacom’s pro bono legal assistance has helped transgender people in New York City match their legal documents to who they truly are. Viacom Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary Michael Fricklas accepted the award on Viacom’s behalf. The law firm Shearman & Sterling was our Presenting Sponsor for the evening and presented Viacom’s award.
TLDEF also honored the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher for its pro bono support of TLDEF’s Name Change Project, and for helping TLDEF secure an extraordinary settlement for a New Jersey transgender man who was fired from a male-only job.
With summer just around the corner, we are pleased to welcome our newest interns to help support our transgender advocacy work in June, July and August.
James Alicea is a second-year law student at Cornell Law School. He graduated valedictorian from Wagner College in 2013, and has worked as a student intern for the Human Rights and Constituent Services division of City Council member Deborah Rose for the 49th District of Staten Island, New York. Having been inspired by the altruism of his mother who passed away in 2009, James is dedicated to using his legal education and passion for political voice to advocate for the rights of the transgender community. His interests include creative writing, science fiction/ fantasy novels, Japanese art and animation, fashion trends, and Spanish cuisine.
Charli Cleland is a Ghanaian artist who graduated from University of Maryland, Baltimore County in May 2013, with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a double minor in Gender Studies and Political Science. He is currently earning a criminal law degree at Brooklyn Law School. In addition to academic pursuits, Charli is a photographer, spoken word poet, web designer, and activist. His works, both visual and written, often focus on themes of transnational identity, gender, race, sexuality, and the location of one’s selves in these experiences.
James Holloway is a California native and an undergraduate at Harvard University where he studies sociology. On campus he serves on the board of Queer Students and Allies, works as the Mentorships Director of Harvard Undergraduate Legal Committee, and is the Co-Coordinator for the African-American division of the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program. His work this past year included creating "study breaks" for queer students and managing the finances for the Black Arts Festival. He hopes that his summer internship with TLDEF will provide a solid foundation for a career in public interest law.
Angie Juarbe grew up in Michigan after moving there from Puerto Rico at age three and is currently a law student at Columbia Law School. In 2013, Angie graduated from Washington University in St. Louis where she studied Latin American Studies, Political Science and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. As an undergraduate, Angie volunteered on a sexual assault hotline and in the St. Louis Domestic Violence Court where she developed an interest in using the law as a tool for affecting change surrounding gender issues. She is a native Spanish speaker and is eager to use her skills and experiences to help serve the transgender community.
We are thrilled to announce favorable name change decisions for two of our clients in New York. The first involved a 22-year old transgender woman from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. Earlier this year, a judge granted Charlie Kerr the right to change her name. Although her name change was approved, the judge inserted language into the order stating: “This name change does not constitute proof of change in gender.”
Through TLDEF’s Name Change Project, Ms. Kerr’s pro bono legal counsel, Shearman & Sterling LLP, filed a motion to remove the problematic language. That language does not appear in the name change orders of non-transgender people, and its inclusion raised the possibility that Charlie would be subjected to unwanted scrutiny whenever she presented her name change order to someone.
On April 30, the Civil Court of the City of New York issued a decision deleting the problematic language from Charlie’s name change order. “There was no legitimate reason to single out Ms. Kerr’s transgender status,” said TLDEF Staff Attorney Noah Lewis. “Name change orders are not gender change orders. Inserting language about a gender change into Charlie’s order because she is transgender violated her privacy and had the potential to expose her to added scrutiny and the possibility of anti-transgender discrimination. We are pleased that the court removed that language.” Ms. Kerr agreed, saying: “I appreciate the court recognizing my name change and deleting words that stigmatized me and jeopardized my privacy and safety. Now I can move on with my life as the person that I am.”
The second case involved a transgender woman who was initially denied the ability to change her name in Niagara County, New York because she could not afford the court’s $210 filing fee. A judge rejected her request for a fee waiver – not because she failed to meet income requirements – but simply because it was for a name change. Following TLDEF’s intervention with Name Change Project co-counsel Nixon Peabody LLP, the Supreme Court of Niagara County reversed its decision, waived the fee and approved a name change for 44-year-old Mikell Puglisi of Niagara Falls, New York.
“Legal name changes are crucial for transgender people to participate equally in society,” said TLDEF Staff Attorney Noah Lewis. “New York provides fee waivers to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to the courts, regardless of income. Denying Mikell a fee waiver simply because she was seeking a name change was unfair and a clear violation of her rights. No one should be forced to use a name that doesn’t reflect who they are, especially when it opens the door to discrimination.”
“I am so relieved that I can finally bring my legal documents in line with who I am, said Mikell. “Living on a limited income, I could not meet the financial burden associated with changing my name. I appreciate the court reconsidering its previous decision and granting me the fee waiver so that I can move forward with my life.”
Exciting news from Colorado! We have reached a final Conciliation Agreement in Coy Mathis’s case. Last year TLDEF won a landmark victory before the Colorado Civil Rights Division, when that administrative body ruled that Coy must be granted access to the girls’ restroom at her elementary school. The school had originally denied her permission to use the restroom because she is transgender. It was a landmark decision supporting the rights of transgender people to access restrooms without harassment or discrimination. The Colorado Civil Rights Division wrote that Coy’s school had treated her in a manner that was “hostile, intimidating,” and “offensive.”
Now the State of Colorado and the school district that discriminated against Coy, along with Coy’s parents, have agreed that no one will appeal the case further. The parties have entered into a Conciliation Agreement, whose terms require the school district to adopt policies that protect transgender students and engage in ongoing compliance monitoring.
“The Coy Mathis ruling sent a strong message that transgender students may not be singled out for discrimination and must be treated equally in school,” said TLDEF’s Executive Director, Michael Silverman. “We’re elated to see a final settlement agreement in this groundbreaking case.”