In This Issue
- Executive Director’s Message
- TLDEF Files Federal Lawsuit Against South Carolina DMV On Behalf of Transgender Teen Who Was Forced to Remove Her Makeup for a Driver's License Photo
- Hello Chicago! Name Change Project Arrives in Cook County
- Name Change Project Continues Steady Growth in Pittsburgh; Welcomes New Partners and Attorneys
- TLDEF & Plaintiffs Challenging Surgery Requirement Testify Before New York City Council in Support of Legislation to End Discriminatory Birth Certificate Policy
- New York High Court Hears Appeal in Case of Slain Transgender Woman Lateisha Green
- TLDEF to Observe Transgender Day of Remembrance
Executive Director’s Message
With the fall season fully underway, we wanted to take a moment to share our work from the last three months.
In our latest newsletter, you’ll learn about our federal lawsuit against the South Carolina DMV on behalf of 16-year-old Chase Culpepper, a transgender teen who was denied the right to wear makeup in her driver’s license photo. We’ll also get you up-to-speed on our ever-growing Name Change Project, which is flourishing in Pittsburgh and has recently expanded to Chicago.
We’re also excited to report that New York City has taken another step towards ending its discriminatory birth certificate policy following actions by the New York City Council and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that would resolve TLDEF’s first-of-its-kind lawsuit challenging New York City’s surgery requirement. TLDEF and our plaintiffs testified before the City Council and the Board of Health, urging action on this matter.
In addition, we’ll share information about our latest efforts to advocate for the reinstatement of a hate crime conviction in the killing of Syracuse transgender woman Lateisha Green, and we’ll preview our plans to observe the upcoming Transgender Day of Remembrance.
You’ll also meet our new board members, interns and volunteers; hear about our office move; and learn about summer internship opportunities at TLDEF.
And we’ll say goodbye to our friend, colleague, and dedicated advocate Noah Lewis.
Finally, we’ll fill you in on all of our latest media coverage, including an op-ed in the Sunday New York Daily News calling for justice in the killing of Harlem resident Islan Nettles.
Your support makes all of this work possible. Thank you for your commitment to our mission! Enjoy the fall season and the upcoming holidays!
TLDEF Files Federal Lawsuit Against South Carolina DMV On Behalf of Transgender Teen Who Was Forced to Remove Her Makeup for a Driver's License Photo
On September 2, TLDEF filed a federal lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles on behalf of a 16-year-old teen who was targeted for discrimination last March. When she attempted to get her first driver’s license, Chase Culpepper was told by the DMV that she could not take her license photo unless she removed the makeup that she wears on a regular basis. (You may recall that at the time of the incident and lawsuit filing, we referred to Chase as gender nonconforming and used male pronouns in accordance with her wishes. Chase has since begun identifying as transgender and using female pronouns and our discussion of her case reflects that here.)
The lawsuit – brought by Chase’s mother Teresa Culpepper on Chase’s behalf as a minor – asks the court to rule that denying Chase the freedom to wear her everyday makeup in her license photo constitutes sex discrimination and violates her right to free speech and expression under the United States Constitution. It also seeks a ruling under the U.S. and South Carolina Constitutions that the DMV’s photo policy is unconstitutionally vague, too broad, and lets DMV employees arbitrarily decide how a driver's license applicant should look, without regard for the rights of the people they are supposed to serve.
“My clothing and makeup reflect who I am,” Chase said. “The Department of Motor Vehicles should not have forced me to remove my makeup simply because my appearance does not match what they think I should look like. I just want the freedom to be who I am without the DMV telling me that I’m somehow not good enough.”
“Chase is entitled to express her gender identity without interference from the South Carolina DMV,” said TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman. “It is not the role of the DMV or any government agency or employee to decide how Chase should look. She should be able to get a driver’s license without being subjected to sex discrimination.”
Along with TLDEF, Chase’s mother is standing by her. “As a mother, it broke my heart to see Chase being forced to be someone that she isn’t. Every time she pulls out her license, she is reminded of that, and that makes it even worse,” said Teresa Culpepper. “I love my child just the way she is. The DMV should not have treated her this way.”
“I want to take my license photo again, with makeup, so I can be myself and express to the world who I truly am,” Chase added.
The suit, Teresa Culpepper v. Kevin A. Shwedo, et al., is pending in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division. Fulbright & Jaworski LLP and Wyche, P.A. are pro bono co-counsel for Chase and Teresa with TLDEF.
The Name Change Project is now in Chicago! The project provides free legal name change services to transgender people through partnerships with some of the nation’s most prestigious law firms and corporate law departments. We are grateful to our long-standing partner Kirkland & Ellis for partnering with us to launch the project’s newest chapter and improve the lives of transgender people in the windy city. If you live in Cook County and need help changing your name, please contact us. We’re here to help.
On October 23, as part of the continuing expansion of the Name Change Project in Pittsburgh, we held a training and reception for attorneys and community members interested in helping the project. The project has been available in Pittsburgh for nearly a year and demand for services remains extremely high.
The training was led by fantastic attorneys from TLDEF partner firm Reed Smith LLP and was graciously hosted by TLDEF sponsor and pro bono partner BNY Mellon and its LGBT employee resource group, PRISM. We are thrilled to have expanded our pro bono partnerships in Pittsburgh to include:
- BNY Mellon
- Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC
- Jones Day
- K&L Gates LLP
- Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
- PNC Bank
- Reed Smith LLP
- Tucker Arensberg, PC
And we are grateful to the many community organizations, including the Garden of Peace Project, the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, that help the project to bring much-needed services to transgender community members in Pittsburgh.
If you live in Allegheny County and need help changing your name, please contact us.
TLDEF & Plaintiffs Challenging Surgery Requirement Testify Before New York City Council in Support of Legislation to End Discriminatory Birth Certificate Policy
On November 10, TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman and three plaintiffs testified at a hearing of the New York City Council Health Committee, urging the council to pass legislation ending the city’s discriminatory transgender birth certificate policy. The plaintiffs are part of TLDEF’s first-of-its-kind lawsuit challenging the requirement that transgender people undergo surgery in order to correct their birth certificates.
The bill (Int. 491 (2014)), introduced by Councilmember Corey Johnson, would eliminate the surgery requirement for transgender people seeking to change the sex designation on their birth certificates, in favor of a statement from a licensed health care provider stating that the sex designation on the applicant’s current birth certificate does not match the applicant’s true sex. The Department of Health & Mental Hygiene also recently proposed regulations that largely mirror the legislation.
You can read the testimony here:
- TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman
- Plaintiff Patricia Harrington
- Plaintiff Naz Seenauth
- Plaintiff Marco Wylie
You can view photographs of plaintiffs Naz Seenauth, Marco Wylie and Patricia Harrington testifying here.
This week, Silverman and the three plaintiffs also testified before the Department of Health on its proposed changes to NYC’s birth certificate regulations, which would also eliminate the surgical requirement. We anticipate that the Board of Health will vote on this issue on December 9th. A date has not yet been set for a vote on the City Council's legislation.
“We applaud these efforts to help transgender people born in New York City correct their birth certificates to match who they truly are. An accurate birth certificate is a fundamental form of identification. Yet New York City’s existing policy makes it all but impossible for transgender people to get birth certificates that reflect their true identities, leaving them to face tremendous difficulty and discrimination,” said TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman. “The city’s policy requires surgical procedures that most transgender people have not undergone, either because of discriminatory health insurance exclusions that make such procedures unaffordable, or because such procedures are medically inappropriate for some people. It is time to end this policy and we will continue to work with the City Council and the Department of Health to do that and improve the lives of transgender people.”
On October 15, TLDEF renewed its call for justice in the case of a slain transgender woman as New York’s highest court heard an appeal by the Onondaga County District Attorney's Office on the overturned conviction of the man who took her life. Oral arguments took place in Albany in “The People v. Dwight R. DeLee.” DeLee was convicted of manslaughter in the first degree as a hate crime for the 2008 killing of Syracuse resident Lateisha “Teish” Green, a 22-year-old African American transgender woman.
Green died November 14, 2008 after she was shot outside a house party in Syracuse. Evidence at trial demonstrated that DeLee shot her because she was transgender and 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. It was the first time a New York jury had delivered a hate crime conviction in the killing of a transgender person, and only the second hate crime conviction in the nation stemming from the killing of a transgender person.
But in July of 2013, the conviction was set aside by The New York Supreme Court’s 4th Appellate Division on a technicality. TLDEF and several civil rights organizations strongly disagree with that ruling and have advocated for its reversal, most notably in an amicus brief that stated in part ...“vacating that conviction would be a grave miscarriage of justice that would subvert the jury’s plain intent.” It further argued that “allowing the person who shot Lateisha Green to walk free would frustrate the purpose of New York’s Hate Crimes Law, working in exact opposition to the Legislature’s two stated goals of enhancing punishment and deterring future hate crimes. And it would not only dishonor Ms. Green’s memory but also cause her family unfathomable grief by revoking the solace they had in knowing that her killer had been brought to justice.”
We expect New York’s highest court to rule on the appeal in the coming months.
This Thursday, November 20, TLDEF will observe the Transgender Day of Remembrance. On that occasion, we will urge the public to reflect on all of the transgender people whose lives have been cut short by violence, simply for living as their true selves, including two young, African American transgender women, Islan Nettles, who was beaten to death in Harlem in August of 2013, and Lateisha (Teish) Green, who was shot in Syracuse in 2008.
The 2013 National Report on Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities revealed the disproportionate impact that deadly violence has on transgender people, and transgender women of color in particular. According to the report "more than two-thirds (67%) of homicide victims were transgender women of color.”
The Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1999 when activists held a vigil to honor Boston activist Rita Hester, a 34-year-old African American transgender woman who was murdered the previous year in her apartment. Transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith organized what has grown into a worldwide commemoration of all those killed by anti-transgender violence. Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe now observe the solemn day by honoring the memory of those murdered in acts of anti-transgender violence and holding local remembrance events.
“On the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we honor Islan Nettles, Lateisha (Teish) Green and countless others lost to anti-transgender violence,” said TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman. “We must continue seeking justice for Islan, Teish and so many others, and renew our call for an end to anti-transgender violence.”
To find the location of a Transgender Day of Remembrance event near you, click here.