Civil Rights

Lawyers and activists use #TransLawHelp to mobilize and protect rights of trans people

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Transgender symbol.

A new Twitter hashtag, #TransLawHelp, has been connecting dozens of transgender people with lawyers offering pro bono help with changing names and gender markers ahead of a Trump-Pence administration.

Launched the day after the election by Riley, a black trans person tweeting from @dtwps, the hashtag’s popularity inspired its creator to build, which includes a state-by-state list of individual lawyers and groups willing to offer assistance.

Under the Obama administration, transgender people gained many rights, including trans-related healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, which President-elect Trump has vowed to gut. Trump also has promised to overturn all of President Barack Obama’s executive orders, which include banning anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors as well as protecting the right of transgender students. As governor of Indiana, Vice President-elect Mike Pence enacted strict anti-LGBT laws.

“There is a lot of panic in the community happening right now,” says M. Dru Levasseur, transgender rights project director at Lambda Legal in New York. “Both (Trump and Pence) have been on the record saying anti-trans things. They have an anti-trans platform.”

Lambda Legal, an organization committed to LGBT rights, has been using the hashtag in its tweets.

Newly minted attorney Tim Bingham wanted to help ease the escalating anxiety he saw on social media after Election Day. After seeing #TransLawHelp, he tweeted, “Starting tomorrow I will be a licensed attorney in Illinois. Contact me for pro bono help with name changes and legal docs. #translawhelp”

“It kind of blew up. I had well over 1,000 retweets,” says Bingham, an associate at Crick, Walanka Law Group in Chicago. “A lot of people were saying ‘good for you,’ but many people sent messages that they were not knowing where to start.” He responded by sending links to documents and other organizations that can help with paperwork.

The John Marshall Law School Pro Bono Program & Clinic—which opened a name and gender project this summer and is also listed on—has seen an uptick in callers seeking services since the election, says Kelly Burden Lindstrom, supervising adjunct professor and staff attorney.

Each state has its own laws to update name and gender markers on documents, including drivers’ licenses, birth certificates and passports. Some require providing proof of surgery.

There are 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law. Less than 60 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming people have updated the gender marker on their driver’s licenses or state identification cards, while only 26 percent have updated their passport, according to John Marshall Law School.

About 90 percent of transgender people experienced harassment, mistreatment or discrimination at work, according to the Williams Institute, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality. While in grades K-12, 78 percent reported harassment; 35 percent reported physical assault; and 12 percent reported sexual violence. The stressors are so high that 41 percent of transgender and gender nonconforming people have attempted suicide.

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