For many transgender people, undergoing gender-affirming surgery is a crucial step toward a healthy gender transition. While not all transgender people need or want gender-affirming surgeries to be part of their transitions, receiving such surgeries may be life saving for some who do.

The American Medical Association has established that gender-affirming surgery is effective and medically necessary for many individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition resulting from an incongruence between one’s experienced or expressed gender and one’s gender assigned at birth. The symptoms of gender dysphoria can include distress, depression and suicidality.

Surveys show that 41 percent of transgender Americans report having attempted suicide, and there is a clear link between these high rates and the lack of transition-related health care coverage.

Gaining access to gender-affirming surgeries can be an insurmountable challenge for many transgender people. Lacking legal protection in many states from discrimination based on gender identity, transgender people often disproportionately struggle to find employment and housing, let alone save enough money for surgery. Even for those who have health insurance, gender-affirming surgery is often out of reach. Many insurance policies exclude coverage of transition-related medical treatments altogether, leaving a large number of transgender people with no choice but to pay for costly gender-affirming surgeries out-of-pocket.

Recognizing this dire need, transgender advocates Dru Levasseur and Tony Ferraiolo co-founded the Jim Collins Foundation, a non-profit organization that covers the cost of gender-affirming surgeries for low-income transgender people who cannot afford to pay for this necessary medical treatment. Each year, the Jim Collins Foundation reviews hundreds of grant applications and selects recipients based on a combination of demonstrated financial need and readiness for surgery. Since its founding in 2008, the Jim Collins Foundation has awarded 20 grants to assist transgender individuals in achieving a healthy gender transition.

In 2017, Proskauer pro bono counsel Erin Meyer joined the Jim Collins Foundation’s board of directors at the invitation of Dru Levasseur, the foundation’s co-founder. The two first met in 2009 while working at Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), where Erin—then a first-year law student—became keenly aware that “the transgender rights movement was gaining momentum and would become cutting-edge civil rights work of our time.” As TLDEF’s staff attorney at the time, Dru became Erin’s long-time mentor, and over the past decade they have continued to work together to advance their shared goal of achieving justice and equality for transgender people.

Erin’s work with the Jim Collins Foundation represents a continuation of Proskauer’s commitment to pro bono, and the Firm’s history of advocating for LGBT rights. In helping transgender immigrants win asylum in the United States, challenging state policies preventing transgender people from amending the gender marker on their drivers’ licenses, and drafting model hospital policies to ensure equal access to health care for transgender patients, Proskauer has committed itself to assisting transgender people through its pro bono practice. With Erin’s current position on the Jim Collin’s Foundation’s board of directors, Proskauer is honored to align itself with the foundation’s important mission, one that also reflects the Firm’s values of inclusion and diversity.

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Photo of William C. Silverman William C. Silverman

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer…

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer lawyers and ensuring widespread participation in these projects.

Bill has robust private and public sector experience and a strong criminal and civil background. He has worked extensively on government investigations and white collar criminal matters, as well as complex civil litigation in federal and state courts. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he led criminal investigations, conducted trials and handled Second Circuit appeals.

Throughout his career, Bill has dedicated himself to the promotion of equal access to justice through pro bono service, particularly in the area of family court, anti-trafficking, and immigration.

Bill spearheaded a partnership among several law firms, corporations and the New York City Family Court to provide free legal advice to pro se litigants. The New York City Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program now has more than 400 volunteer attorneys from 40 major firms and corporations. Bill also helped build a coalition of organizations in a successful effort to secure additional Family Court judges in New York. He is now part of an effort spearheaded by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to simplify the New York Court System from 11 trial courts to three.

Bill serves as counsel to the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition. In that capacity he has been a strong advocate for changes in the law and public policy to protect victims of human trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice. He also represents individual clients in this area, including a successful federal lawsuit brought on behalf of a trafficking victim against her traffickers. For his work, he was named by domestic violence nonprofit Sanctuary For Families as one of “New York’s New Abolitionists.”

Bill has spoken at numerous conferences and events, including New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Hearings on Civil Legal Services and the American Bar Association’s Equal Justice Conference. In 2014, he attended a meeting at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden and other policymakers on the need for access to legal services in immigration proceedings.

Bill has been recognized for his public service with the Abely Pro Bono Leadership Award from Sanctuary For Families and Columbia Law School (2019); the Special Leadership Award for All-Around Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility & the Law from City & State Reports (2015); the Commitment to Justice Award for Outstanding Partner from inMotion (2008); and the Matthew G. Leonard Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Achievement from MFY Legal Services (2007).

Outside of his work at the firm, Bill serves on various committees and non-profit boards. Bill is currently chairman of the Fund for Modern Courts, a non-partisan citizen organization devoted to improving New York State courts, and is formerly chairman of Legal Information For Families Today (LIFT), an organization devoted to unrepresented litigants in Family Court.