Georgia lawyers rally to help trans­gen­der com­mu­nity post-elec­tion

Pro bono ser­vices avail­able in an­tic­i­pa­tion of Trump re­peal of trans pro­tec­tions

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

By ROBBIE MEDWED

Shortly af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the hash­tag #Tran­sLawHelp be­gan to pop up on Twit­ter and other so­cial me­dia sites. The tag, orig­i­nally coined by a user by the name of Ri­ley, was a quick ef­fort to match trans­gen­der Amer­i­cans with lawyers to help them se­cure proper doc­u­men­ta­tion and ID be­fore the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion took of­fice. Be­cause Trump him­self has hinted at a near-def­i­nite re­peal of many of Pres­i­dent Obama’s LGBT-in­clu­sive ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, many trans and gen­der non-con­form­ing peo­ple be­gan work­ing to ob­tain or change gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments to align with proper gen­der mark­ers and name in­for­ma­tion while they still had the rel­a­tive ease of do­ing so.

Users put out the call on so­cial me­dia and lawyers and web de­vel­op­ers from across the coun­try stepped up to do­nate their ser­vices, in­clud­ing Amanda Seals Bersinger, an at­tor­ney with Bon­durant Mix­son & El­more here in Georgia.

“I raised my hand to spear­head the ef­fort in Georgia be­cause I felt sure I could quickly rally enough folks ea­ger to help to cover the need here,” Bersinger told Georgia Voice.

Over 40 Georgia lawyers signed up so far

Bersinger has been able to quickly rally other lawyers to the cause. Over 40 Georgia lawyers signed up to pro­vide pro bono ser­vices to any trans or gen­der non-con­form­ing Ge­or­gian in need, rep­re­sent­ing many of At­lanta’s big­name firms in­clud­ing Bon­durant Mix­son & El­more, Akin & Tate, Al­ston & Bird, Green­berg Trau­rig and oth­ers. Trans Law Help has signed up about a dozen trans clients so far. The group’s pri­mary fo­cus is help­ing trans in­di­vid­u­als se­cure a pass­port and other le­gal doc­u­ments that re­flect their gen­der iden­tity. To en­sure com­pe­tent care and as­sis­tance, Bersinger’s law firm hosted a train­ing for lawyers and other le­gal pro­fes­sion­als con­ducted by Trans­Form. Amanda Seals Bersinger of Bon­durant Mix­son & El­more (l) and Matthew Wil­son of Akin & Tate (r) are two of sev­eral Georgia lawyers help­ing trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als pro bono. (Cour­tesy photos) “From my per­spec­tive, the thing that has im­pressed me most about this ef­fort has been how many peo­ple want to help and how ea­ger they are to help. It’s been so en­cour­ag­ing, es­pe­cially in an other­wise un­cer­tain time for marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties.”

“Be­cause a pass­port can serve as photo iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, proof of age and also proof of cit­i­zen­ship, it’s an es­pe­cially valu­able piece of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, even for folks who have no in­ten­tion of trav­el­ing abroad,” Bersinger said. “For ex­am­ple, they es­tab­lish both iden­tity and em­ploy­ment au­tho­riza­tion, as re­quired for an I-9 form, so they help peo­ple avoid ‘out­ing’ them­selves in em­ploy­ment, but also in other sen­si­tive sit­u­a­tions where it might not be safe for trans folks to be out, they might ex­pose them­selves to dis­crim­i­na­tion if they’re out or they might other­wise not want to be out, for what­ever rea­son.

“A change in United States State De­part­ment pol­icy that took ef­fect in 2010 means that trans Amer­i­cans can ob­tain a pass­port re­flect­ing their cur­rent (bi­nary) gen­der so long as they have a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from a physi­cian con­firm­ing that they have had clin­i­cal treat­ment de­ter­mined to be ap­pro­pri­ate in their in­di­vid­ual case to fa­cil­i­tate gen­der tran­si­tion,” Bersinger added. “This sup­planted the State De­part­ment’s ear­lier pol­icy, which re­quired doc­u­men­ta­tion of sex re­as­sign­ment surgery. We’re en­cour­ag­ing folks to move quickly on the pass­port is­sue also be­cause that State De­part­ment pol­icy could change by ex­ec­u­tive or­der un­der the new ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Though it’s not nec­es­sary to have a lawyer to ob­tain a pass­port with proper iden­ti­fi­ca­tion de­tails, chang­ing gen­der mark­ers in Georgia can be an in­cred­i­bly com­pli­cated process which re­quires proof of a “sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure,” and it can be very help­ful to have knowl­edge­able lawyers on board. Matthew Wil­son, a lawyer with Akin & Tate P.C., re­counted an amus­ing mo­ment from a re­cent court ap­pear­ance in Au­gusta: “The client was seek­ing a name change and the judge seemed very skep­ti­cal. When the lawyers be­gan and it was re­vealed that they were from Al­ston & Bird, the judge said, ‘We’ve got two At­lanta lawyers here to­day just for a name change?’ The judge ul­ti­mately granted the name change and I’m pretty sure it’s be­cause the lawyers were from such a well- known firm. But we’ve also seen judges who are sym­pa­thetic to the name change but might, for what­ever rea­son, feel it is not in keep­ing with the spirit of the law or pub­lic opin­ion out­side the metro area. In these ar­eas, we’ve had good suc­cess with lit­i­ga­tors who know how to nav­i­gate the process with­out call­ing un­nec­es­sary at­ten­tion to their client’s case. A lot of times this means hav­ing a lawyer who reg­u­larly prac­tices be­fore the judge and can use their cred­i­bil­ity to help their client. I had this oc­cur re­cently in a ru­ral, north Georgia county. I knew the judge and although it was clear he was un­com­fort­able with the case, he made the com­ment to me: ‘If some­one wants to change the name their par­ents gave them, who am I to say no?’”

Con­nect­ing trans clients with lawyers sur­pris­ingly fast

It isn’t al­ways that sim­ple, though. In Georgia, a name change must take place in a court and it of­ten takes longer than the gen­der change process. Those wish­ing to change their le­gal name must ad­ver­tise in a lo­cal pa­per for at least 30 days be­fore the court will process the re­quest, and the change can still take up to 90 days. Be­cause there are so many in­di­vid­ual de­tails to look af­ter, hav­ing a knowl­edge­able lawyer can bring an in­cred­i­ble ad­van­tage.

In a world known for paperwork, hourly billing and pro­ce­dural red tape, the ef­fort to con­nect trans clients with lawyers has been sur­pris­ingly fast. Once an in­di­vid­ual contacts Trans Law Help, a call goes out to the net­work of lawyers and the client is matched, of­ten in less than half an hour. From there, Bersinger and the other co­or­di­na­tors step back and the vol­un­teer at­tor­ney takes over.

Bersinger’s cer­tainly proud of her ef­forts and the will­ing­ness of so many from the law com­mu­nity to step up and help.

“From my per­spec­tive, the thing that has im­pressed me most about this ef­fort has been how many peo­ple want to help and how ea­ger they are to help,” she said. “It’s been so en­cour­ag­ing, es­pe­cially in an other­wise un­cer­tain time for marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties. And so that’s been ‘fun,’ I guess, in that it’s just so damn good to see so many peo­ple so ea­ger to do the right thing.”

Those in need of as­sis­tance can visit tran­slawhelp.org or email Amanda Seals Bersinger di­rectly at bersinger@bmelaw.com.

Jan­uary 6, 2017

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