Transgender and nonbinary individuals are often among the most marginalized communities we serve as pro bono lawyers. In the US and abroad, transgender and nonbinary people have faced a history of discrimination in employment and housing, unequal access to healthcare, and violence. Indeed, as the Human Rights Campaign has reported,
On June 24, 2021, the Governor of New York signed into law the Gender Recognition Act, and Proskauer employees came together in celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride Month to support transgender equality and inclusion in all areas of public life.
With special guest speakers Chris Mosier of Transathlete.com and Sasha Buchert of Lambda Legal, Proskauer associate Ren Morris and Craig Convissar of The LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York (LeGaL) led a conversation about the recent wave of state-level anti-transgender legislation, much of which has targeted transgender youth.
When navigating routine experiences such as applying for jobs, traveling, accessing healthcare, and interacting with government agencies, many of us are able to present our identification documents or write down our legal names without a second thought. But for transgender individuals navigating these same spaces, having to use a legal name that is inconsistent with their gender identity often translates into a heightened risk of discrimination, harassment, and violence. That such a fundamental part of one’s identity — a person’s name — can expose one to bigotry or physical harm is an injustice that is unfortunately far too common in transgender communities.
In fact, in a 2015 survey of transgender Americans, nearly one-third of respondents reported being “verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave a location or establishment, or assaulted or attacked” as a result of showing a government-issued ID with a name or gender marker that did not match their gender expression. For many transgender individuals, the opportunity to legally change their legal name not only affirms their identity but also increases their safety. Yet many of those who want legal name changes cannot access them because of the cost and the complications of navigating the court system.
Nearly one-third of transgender individuals experience homelessness at some point in their life, and 70% of those who have stayed in a homeless shelter have reported some form of mistreatment, including harassment and refusal of service, due to their gender identity. Transgender individuals are significantly more likely to end up homeless than the general population because they often face rejection by their family members and discrimination in employment and housing. The levels of discrimination and income inequality are even higher for transgender women of color, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the rates of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness among the transgender population.
On September 22, 2020, Proskauer pro bono attorneys filed a public comment letter on behalf of The National LGBT Bar Association and Foundation urging the withdrawal of a Proposed Rule issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that would severely harm homeless transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals by allowing federally funded homeless shelters to discriminate against them on the basis of their gender identity. The Proposed Rule would eliminate key non-discrimination protections previously afforded to transgender shelter-seekers under HUD’s 2016 Equal Access Rule and would permit single-sex shelters to turn away transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals if the shelter operator determines that the individual is not of the same “biological sex” as the other shelter residents.
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.