New Legal Clinic Gives Transgenders a Good Name
[NEW YORK, NY] - A who's-who's of gay and lesbian lawyers and transgender activists gathered at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Center on Oct. 7 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the West Village Trans-Legal Clinic. The free clinic, which meets on the first Monday of every month starting at 6 p.m., assists transgendered people in obtaining legal name changes. They also provide information on how to go about changing gender on identification documents.
Among the attendees were Pauline Park, a board member of NYAGRA ; Roz Richter, an acting justice on the New York Supreme Court; Janet Weinberg, director of development at the Center; Marcy Kahn, one of the first openly lesbian judges elected to the New York Supreme Court; and Carrie Davis, a counselor at the Center's Gender Identity Project.
The brainchild of the clinic is Thomas Hickey, a court attorney for a judge at the New York State Supreme Court. The chair of the L.G.B.T. committee of the New York County Law Association and a board member of the LeGal (New York's Lesbian and Gay Law Association) Foundation, Hickey had been working with the community for a number of years to find long-term solutions for issues facing transgender prostitutes.
Hickey worked with a group of lawyers to discuss starting a clinic and the legal community came through; the clinic currently has about 20 lawyers working pro bono on a trial basis. The lawyers are volunteers from various Bar groups, LeGal and other legal associations. (Frank Nervo, president of Village Independent Democrats, is one such volunteer.) Hickey also worked with NYAGRA and Davis, who said the clinic is a first step in normalizing transgender identities.
"What makes this clinic so wonderful is it gives people a legal identity," Melissa Sklarz, chairperson of Community Board 2's L.G.B.T. committee, enthusiastically told a crowd of about 30 people.
"If transgendered people don't have a gender identity, they're discriminated against," Hickey explained at the ceremony. Hickey and Sklarz both emphasized that the ability to change one's name gives people the chance to obtain gainful employment and keep their jobs. Although the clinic does not represent clients, it gives them legal advice and the means to go to court, if necessary.
The money for the clinic came from the Sonya Staff Foundation, which gave $5,000, and Community Board 2, which allocated $5,000 from the board's Archive committee, which was discontinued last year.
Aubrey Lees, Community Board 2 chairperson and an attorney who has moderated panels at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York on transgender issues, also worked with Hickey and the L.G.B.T. committee to get the clinic started. Lees, who has represented members of the transgender community for years on different issues and does a lot of name changes, plans to volunteer for the clinic, schedule permitting. "It's very hard for members of the transgender community to start their lives and get employment," Lees said before the ceremony.
The Meat Market has traditionally been a magnet for transgender sex workers, and police make frequent sweeps of the area. But finding a solution to the problem was easier said than done.
Board 2 worked for a long time to try to find a solution to the problem of prostitution in the West Village. At one point, there was discussion about passing a resolution that would decriminalize and legalize prostitution, a suggestion that provoked much ire from board members. When it became apparent that there was money available from the board to open a clinic, that went over much better, and the board quickly put a plan in place. Before the clinic's grand opening, it had been open for about five months to get an idea of what clients are looking for. "It's working well so far," Sklarz said.