In This Issue
- Executive Director’s Message
- Name Change Victories in North Carolina
- Save the Date for our Ninth Anniversary Benefit!
- Name Change Project Takes Off in Pittsburgh
- TLDEF Ensures Bathroom and Locker Room Access for Transgender Student
- Name Change Project Clients Overwhelmingly Young Transgender Women of Color Living in Poverty
- New York High Court to Hear Appeal in Lateisha Green Case
Executive Director’s Message
It’s hard to believe we have already reached the end of February. Hope you enjoyed the first two months of your year! As we approach March and the beginning of spring, now is the perfect opportunity to thank you for your continued support of TLDEF and update you on our latest efforts. We could not do our crucial work on behalf of transgender people across this country without your help.
We are elated by yesterday’s news that the effort to repeal California’s School Success and Opportunity Act—the new law ensuring that transgender kids have opportunities to do well in school—has failed. What a great moment for our movement. You can read our statement on it here.
In this latest newsletter, we’ll fill you in on our Name Change Project’s expansion into the Pittsburgh area, and share statistics about what populations benefit most from the program. We’ll also tell you about an important victory in the case of a transgender student who was denied access to the boys’ bathroom and locker room in his middle school. In addition, you’ll learn about a very positive development in the Lateisha Green case, and our two recent name change successes in North Carolina. Plus we’ll reflect on Brandon Teena, 20-years after his murder, whose story inspired the movie “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Rounding out our latest updates, we’ll explain how you can get more involved with TLDEF on social media or by attending our Ninth Anniversary Benefit, featuring Laverne Cox and Edie Windsor.
And finally, we think you will be very pleased to see all of the recent positive visibility we have received from the mainstream and LGBT media, spotlighting TLDEF’s important work.
Wishing you health, happiness and empowerment in the months ahead! Thanks again for your dedication to TLDEF!
We are happy to announce favorable decisions for two transgender women seeking name changes in North Carolina. Síle Kelleher and Hadassah Chayim had been denied the modification because they had previously changed their names. Under a provision of North Carolina law dating from 1891, individuals may only change their name once for reasons outside of marriage and divorce, or if they are reverting to their original name.
In the first case, TLDEF won a name change for Síle Kelleher. Ms. Kelleher had been prevented from changing her male birth name to Síle, a traditional Irish spelling of Sheila, because she had previously changed it. TLDEF applied for reconsideration of the denial, citing constitutional concerns that would be raised by a refusal to change Ms. Kelleher’s name. TLDEF argued that forcing Ms. Kelleher to use a male name violated her freedom of expression as well as her constitutionally protected privacy and liberty interests. The judge agreed that “denying a name change would cast doubt upon the constitutionality” of the law in this instance and granted Ms. Kelleher’s name change.
Ms. Kelleher’s prior name change dates from 1995, when she first attempted to live openly as female. Subject to overwhelming pressure from her family, she resumed living as male and legally reverted to her birth name in 1999. Living as male proved as unworkable as ever, and in 2008 Síle began the process of permanently transitioning to female. “I did my best to live as someone I wasn’t to please my family, but I could no longer do it. It was time for me to live as my true self for good,” she said.
Without a judicial name change, however, the North Carolina native was unable to obtain identity documents that match who she is. For years, Ms. Kelleher was regularly subjected to discrimination, confusion and even accusations of fraud when she was forced to present identification with a male name on it.
“I am finally free to be myself with a name that matches who I truly am. No one should be forced use a name that doesn’t match who they are,” said Ms. Kelleher. “I am absolutely thrilled that I will no longer be subject to scrutiny because of my name.”
In the second case, Hadassah Chayim had legally changed her name five years ago for religious reasons from her male birth name to a traditionally Jewish male name. Since that time, she had begun living openly as Hadassah, but was forced to retain her male legal name as a result of North Carolina law barring a second name change.
“My name ‘Chayim’ means ‘life’ in Hebrew,” she said. “Now I can finally create a new life for myself, one free of the depression and anxiety that resulted from being unable to be my true self. My name change will allow everyone to see me for who I really am.”
“Something as fundamental to identity and expression as one’s own name should not be subject to government interference," said TLDEF Staff Attorney Noah Lewis, who represented both women. “These rulings confirm that each one of us has the right to be known by the name of our choice.”
In addition to TLDEF, the legal team representing Ms. Kelleher and Ms. Chayim included Marjorie Press Lindblom, Adam T. Humann and Lexi Brine of Kirkland & Ellis LLP in New York and Mark Sigmon of Graebe Hanna & Sullivan, PLLC in Raleigh, North Carolina.
We are thrilled to announce our Ninth Anniversary Benefit on Monday, May 19 at the Art Director’s Club Gallery in New York City. This year we are extremely excited to be honoring Laverne Cox, acclaimed actress, star of the Netflix Series, “Orange is the New Black” and fierce advocate for transgender rights. We are also equally excited to honor Edie Windsor, the marriage equality icon whose landmark Supreme Court case overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act. It’s going to be a great night! Tickets go on sale soon. See you there!
TLDEF is happy to announce that our Name Change Project is now available to transgender people in the Pittsburgh region.
The “Name Change Project” provides legal assistance for transgender people who are seeking to change their legal names to match who they are. “It is often difficult and intimidating for transgender people to navigate the legal system for a name change,” said TLDEF Executive Director, Michael Silverman. “With pro bono support from lawyers at BNY Mellon and Reed Smith LLP, TLDEF will help transgender people through the name change process.”
“We’re thrilled to be expanding our ‘Name Change Project’ into Pittsburgh,” Silverman added. “For many transgender people, matching their legal names with who they are makes it far easier for them to live their lives free of discrimination in employment, housing, health care, and public accommodations. We’re tremendously grateful to BNY Mellon and Reed Smith for helping us bring this resource to the transgender community in Pittsburgh.”
BNY Mellon was recently named among the Human Rights Campaign’s “Best Places to Work” for LGBT equality and has earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI) for the past seven years. The company is joining TLDEF’s “Name Change Project” through a team of employee volunteers as an extension of its commitment to diversity and inclusion, bringing a crucial resource to those who are simply trying to bring their legal documents in line with their true selves.
“We’re invested in having a positive impact in the world, and our work on the ‘Name Change Project’ allows us the unique and meaningful opportunity to do just that,” said Stanley Koepke, a member of BNY Mellon’s legal team and the local co-chair of its pro bono initiatives. “We’re proud to be a part of a collaboration that will help make life easier for Pittsburgh’s transgender community.”
Reed Smith LLP was also named among the “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” and earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2014 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), the nation’s premier barometer for workplace equality. In order to further its pro bono and diversity initiatives, Reed Smith decided to partner with TLDEF and BNY Mellon to bring the “Name Change Project” to Pittsburgh.
“The ‘Name Change Project’ is a vital resource for transgender people,” said Tyree Jones, Reed Smith Partner and Director of Global Diversity & Inclusion. “We’re committed to working side by side with TLDEF and BNY Mellon to help transgender people maneuver through the legal procedures and successfully match their legal names with who they truly are.”
To date, TLDEF has helped over 1,300 people with name changes in New York City through a collaboration with dozens of law firms and corporate legal departments. We are continuing to expand the Name Change Project around the country.
TLDEF’s advocacy has paved the way for a twelve-year-old transgender student to gain access to the boys’ bathroom and locker room at his middle school. He was originally barred from using the boys’ facilities and told he would have to use the bathroom in the school nurse’s bathroom, and change for sports in the faculty bathroom. The discrimination caused him significant anxiety because he was singled out and separated from his peers. It also caused physical difficulties for him because he avoided using the bathroom altogether during school hours. This led to bladder irritations and caused him to wet himself.
Following TLDEF’s outreach to the school district, reminding the entity of its own policies barring such poor treatment of students and a municipal ordinance protecting transgender people from discrimination, the school did the right thing and changed course, allowing the student access to the boys bathroom and locker room moving forward. He has been in school without incident since we resolved this matter at the start of the school year. We are very pleased that our efforts resulted in a victory for this student who is now receiving the respect and dignity that he and all students deserve so they may thrive in school.
More than 300 people contacted us for help through the Name Change project in 2013. Most of these requests for assistance came from New York City, which was the only location where we provided project services for most of the year.
We collect demographic data on project participants, and for 2013 we found the following: Two-thirds of Name Change Project clients are transgender women. About two-thirds are people of color, predominantly African American and Latino.
Name Change project clients are young: 42% are less than 24-years-old, 30% are age 24 – 29, 12% are age 30 – 39, and only 16% are over 40-years-old.
Finally, Name Change Project clients in 2013 were also overwhelmingly poor or low-income. Nearly two-thirds received Medicaid or another form of public assistance. Two-thirds of clients reported an annual income of less than $10,000. 19% reported an annual income between $10,000 and $20,000. Only 16% reported an annual income over $20,000.
The Name Change Project offers vital assistance for the people we serve. Many would not otherwise have options or resources to maneuver the legal system in order to match their legal documents with who they are. We are proud to help all of our Name Change Project clients bring their legal names in line with their true identities to help them live authentic lives.
We are happy to report that the New York Court of Appeals will consider an appeal in “The People v. Dwight R. DeLee”. We have urged the court to reinstate the jury’s verdict and Dwight DeLee’s conviction of manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime for the 2008 killing of Syracuse, New York resident Lateisha “Teish” Green, a 22-year old African American transgender woman.
Teish died November 14, 2008 after she was shot outside a house party in Syracuse. Evidence at trial demonstrated that DeLee shot her because he believed she was gay. A jury found DeLee guilty of manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime in July of 2009 and in August of that year he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the crime. It was the first time a New York jury had delivered a hate crime conviction in the killing of a transgender person. It was only the second hate crime conviction in the nation stemming from the killing of a transgender person. The jury reached the first degree manslaughter as a hate crime verdict after determining that DeLee had targeted Teish based on his perception of her sexual orientation, which is a protected category under New York’s hate crimes law.
In July, 2013, the conviction was set aside by the New York Supreme Court’s 4th Appellate Division because of what the court viewed as an “inconsistent” verdict: The jury found DeLee guilty of first degree manslaughter as a hate crime, but not guilty of first degree manslaughter. The 4th Appellate Division tossed out the conviction, concluding that jury confusion about the judge’s instructions led to a conflicting verdict.
“TLDEF strongly disagreed with the 4th Appellate Division’s conclusion and we are extremely pleased that New York’s highest court has agreed to consider the appeal,” said TLDEF Executive Director, Michael Silverman. “We believe the jury reached a proper verdict based on its understanding of the Judge’s instructions, viewing first degree manslaughter alone as a lesser offense and therefore choosing ‘not guilty’ on that charge, but concluding that first degree manslaughter as a hate crime was the correct verdict, and therefore convicting DeLee on that charge.”
Teish’s family had been devastated and angry about the initial conviction reversal, but following news from the New York Court of Appeals, they feel renewed hope about the chances for a better final outcome.
“I was outraged that our daughter’s killer was released from prison on a technicality,” said Roxanne Green, Teish’s mother. “Now I feel some relief that New York’s highest court will review this case. I want justice for Teish.” The Court of Appeals has scheduled briefing in the case for the next few months. We anticipate a ruling later in the year.