FAMILY LIFE: What’s in a name (change)?

DRACONIS VON TRAPP | Intern
intern@dallasvoice.com

When two people enter into a legal Texas marriage, the paperwork gives them the option to change their last name. But in Texas, even the most devoted same-sex couples don’t get this luxury.

In order to do the traditional surname change, same-sex couples have to file a separate petition.

As a young transgentleman starting school soon, I didn’t want any more school experiences where roll was called and I had to answer to “Alora Clemmons.” Of course, they would use my nickname if I asked them to. But I would still be in their databases — and their minds — as “Alora.”

This was simply not going to happen. So I set out on the journey of legally changing my name.

The process of legally changing your name is tedious and difficult. I had next to no help on this journey, and making your way through the Dallas legal system is the equivalent of trying to swim through molasses.

To start, you have to actually have the paperwork. I Google’d my fingers off trying to find specific step-by-step directions, But since the procedure is different for every state, there were very few specifics available on legally changing your name, as an adult, in Dallas.

I considered hiring a lawyer. The one I contacted — who had legal name changes specifically listed on his website as something he was amazing at — said he’d be perfectly willing to give me a hand. If that I paid him $1,500.

Like that was happening.

Many legal websites had the paperwork available for download, all ranging in cost from $50 to $80 per form. While I seriously considered this option, I kept thinking to myself, “There’s gotta be a better way.”

Luckily, my gender therapist, Feleshia Porter, had a link on her website to the papers I’d need, for the low cost of about $10. That seemed perfectly reasonable and I eagerly downloaded the papers and printed them out.

You get two documents: The petition and the order for a name change. The order pretty much asks the same stuff as the petition, but with slightly different wording to make sure all the information in your petition is true.

The petition has to be notarized. They’ll do it at the court building for $8, but it’s usually free at your bank. Make sure you get copies made of both the petition and the order.

The Dallas County District Court is located downtown at 600 Commerce Street, and parking is almost impossible. It may be easier if you just have someone drop you off and pick you up, or else you risk having to pay for parking, having to parking 10 blocks away, or getting towed for accidentally parking on the wrong half of the street.

Assuming you’ve got all the papers filled out and notarized, the clerk will ask you to pay a filing fee, which is about $240. They don’t take credit or debit cards, so make sure you have cold, hard cash or your checkbook handy.

Once that’s done, they’ll give you a copy of the petition with your case number and a stamp that says “303rd District Court.” The clerk will tell you where to go, which is just up a few floors to the courtroom.

Find the door that has “303” written on it and go sit inside. If the judge isn’t already dealing with another case, you just wait patiently for the judge to call you up.

This part is relatively painless. Assuming you’re not changing your name to Tom Cruise or Superman, the judge will give you the OK, and you get a packet including the step-by-step process of legal name changes and a fingerprint card for a criminal background check.

You can take this card to any police station and they’ll fingerprint you for about $10. The return address will already be on the fingerprint card so you can send it back to the 303rd District Court.

After you wash the ink off your fingers, you’re going to have to mail off a payment to the DPS to process your fingerprints. This costs about $40 and payment must be either a cashier’s check or a money order. Include this in an envelope with your fingerprint card and mail it off to the address listed in the name change paper.

The turnaround time for a name change is between one and three months, but usually it doesn’t take longer than one month. However, you have to call the court and ask about the progress of your background check because they won’t call you.

When it’s gone through, they’ll give you a hearing date. Bring in the copies of your order and address the judge as “Your honor.” Once you get the OK from there, you’ll be sent to another judge to get the ball rolling on changing your driver’s license and all that business.

It’s complicated and painful, but legally changing your name can be done. It’s most definitely worth it, though, if sharing the surname of your partner is special to you.

Just be sure to have a good copy machine and a checkbook.

—  John Wright

Who decides what’s medically necessary?

Mara Keisling

Trans advocate says trans health benefits are about what medical treatments are necessary, not about cost or personal beliefs

TAMMYE NASH  | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Say the phrase “transgender health benefits,” and most people immediately think insurance coverage that pays at least some of the costs of sexual reassignment surgery. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

The problem, said National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling, is that issues of medical treatment are being made by accountants rather than by doctors. And trans-phobia is playing a role in too many of those decisions.

Neither the city of Dallas, the city of Fort Worth, Dallas County nor Tarrant County offer fully inclusive health care benefits for their employees. But they are not alone.

According to reports, when city officials in Portland, Ore., voted unanimously earlier this month to offer transgender health care benefits, the city became only the third local government in the nation to do so. San Francisco city and county — one combined government — was first, and Oregon’s Multanomah County was second.

In the business world, the odds are a little better for trans employees looking for adequate insurance coverage. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2009, 22 percent of the Fortune 100 companies offered trans-inclusive health benefits, while such benefits were offered by 7 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and 3 percent of Fortune 1,000 companies.

Still, those numbers are dishearteningly low. And sometimes, even when a trans person thinks they are covered, insurance companies — whether in an attempt to cut costs or out of anti-trans bigotry — will find a way to deny claims.

“A lot of insurance plans exclude what they call ‘transition-related care,’” Keisling said. “That can mean a lot of different things, but they all have similar implications.”

“Transition-related care” can be divided into two parts, Keisling said: the costs directly related to gender reassignment surgery, and the other treatments and services that are related, things like checking hormone levels, lab tests, and mental health services associated with the transition process.

“Even someone who has fully transitioned probably still needs to get her hormone levels checked on a regular basis. And insurance companies will deny those claims by saying they are ‘transition-related,’” Keisling said.

This is also the issue of sex-specific care, she continued. After transitioning, a trans woman will qualify for regular mammograms, but not for regular prostate exams — which she still needs, too.

And a lot of trans men face similar difficulties, Keisling said. “A trans man might need a pap smear or some other kind of gynecological care, and they are often told no, insurance won’t cover that,” she said.

She described another case in which a trans man was told by his doctors that he was facing serious gynecological problems and needed to have a hysterectomy. Because he was trans, however, insurance wouldn’t pay.

“Insurance said, ‘No. We don’t pay for sex-change operations. The doctors said this is transition surgery. This is a medically-necessary procedure.’ But they wouldn’t pay,” she said.

But in some cases, the discrimination is even more blatant.

“The insurance for federal government employees specifically excludes coverage for the costs of [gender reassignment surgery], but there have been a number of cases where that was used to exclude coverage of any type for transgenders,” Keisling said.

“I know of a federal employee who was told insurance wouldn’t pay for care for her son’s broken arm because she was transgender. Another trans woman who was anemic and needed transfusions was told insurance wouldn’t cover the treatments because she had ‘transsexual blood,’” she said.

“The list goes on and on. I know another trans woman who was playing for a woman’s softball team and broke her arm during a game,” Keisling continued. “She went to the hospital, had the X-rays and got her arm set. Then the insurance company turned around and denied the claim. They said if she weren’t transsexual, she wouldn’t have been out there playing for a women’s team and she wouldn’t have broken her arm.”

When it comes to these “really egregious stories” that are “so clearly wrong,” Keisling said, the victims can hire lawyers and get remedies through the courts. Still, she said, “You have to know what to do, how to get things fixed.” And court cases aren’t cheap, either.

Still, things do seem to be changing for the better, at least when it comes to federal employees, Keisling said. Federal officials recently issues a letter to employees stressing that when it comes to the exclusionary language in the insurance policy, “surgery means just that — surgery, not pre-operative care or post-operative care. And they stressed that this isn’t a change. They aren’t just now saying that. That has always been the rule. They just want to make sure people know the rule and follow it.”

Officials with the Veterans Administration also sent a similar letter regarding insurance coverage for transgender veterans.

But the message doesn’t seem to be filtering down to lower levels of government. For instance, mayoral runoff candidates in both Dallas and Fort Worth have said that when it comes to the question of health benefits for transgender city employees, they have to study the issue more before deciding where they stand. And for three of them — Mike Rawlings and David Kunkle in Dallas and Betsy Price in Fort Worth — it comes down to a question of costs.

Jim Lane, the other Fort Worth mayoral candidate, said at a recent candidate forum that as it had been explained to him in terms of Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome: In the 1970s, most people dismissed claims of post-traumatic stress. But as medical science has advanced, post-traumatic stress has become acknowledged as a serious problem that requires medical-necessary treatment.

That, Keisling said, is what it all comes down to: What is medically necessary? And who gets to answer that question?

“We want the insurance to cover things that are medically necessary. We are not asking them to cover things that are not medically necessary,” she said. “Boob jobs are not in the medically necessary category. Electrolysis treatments, fertility treatments — those things are not medically necessary.”

Gender transition, though, is different. And, Keisling said, the American Medical Association agrees.

“The American Medical Association has said that transition-related health care is medically necessary. It is not experimental. It is not optional. It is medically necessary,” she said. “And we don’t want insurance companies deciding what is medically necessary. We don’t want city council members deciding what’s medically necessary. We want doctors making those decisions.”

The issue of cost, Keisling said, should not be an issue at all.

In fact, according to HRC’s website on transgender health care, “the annualized costs to the employer of providing insurance coverage for transgender-related care are typically minimal” and even “negligible for medium-sized to larger employers.”

The HRC website notes that the best available data on cost comes from the city of San Francisco and San Francisco County, and only limited data is available even then, since trans benefits are a relatively recent occurrence there.

“The cost of services per employee per year was minimal, with costs per insured per year averaging between $0.77 and $0.96: less than a dollar per year per enrollee,” according to information on the HRC website, which is based on the report San Francisco Transgender Benefit: Actual Cost and Utilization (2001-2006). “The precise number of claimants is uncertain since for most years the data is reported by claim and not by claimant. Thus the average dollars per claimant per year ranged between $3,194 and $12,771. The average five-year cost per claimant was between $15,963 and $63,853 for the period from 2001-2006.”

Keisling said, “Does it cost money to offer these benefits? Sure. But the truth is, it will save more money in the long run. With the proper benefits, people get to be healthy, physically and mentally, and that has an undeniable impact on the quality of the work they do.

“The real problem is that when people think of transition and treatment for transgenders, they think of it as something dirty,” Keisling added. “But it’s not dirty. It’s not shameful. It’s just like any other kind of medical care. This is about medical treatments that are medically necessary and that’s it. That whole debate over ‘medically necessary’ is done. It’s over.

“Now the businesses are starting to fall in line, and even the federal government. Now it’s time for the cities, for the counties to get on the stick and start offering their employees the benefits they deserve.”

—  John Wright

Working together to make history

There is work still to be done to get DART’s policy where it needs to be, but Tuesday’s vote was a big first step toward victory

Cece Cox andRafael McDonnell Guest Columnists

The North Texas LGBT community made history Tuesday night, June 22. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit board of directors unanimously voted to expand its nondiscrimination protections to include gender identity.

Never before in our area has a governmental body unanimously voted to expand LGBT nondiscrimination protections. In fact, we believe that the nature of the vote was a first statewide.

This could not have happened without an impressive and inspiring collection of groups and people working with Resource Center Dallas, all working towards the same goal of inclusion. The list includes Equality Texas, Transgender Education Network of Texas, LULAC 4871, GEAR, Equality March Texas, Lambda Legal, Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, Out&Equal DFW Council, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, HRC DFW Steering Committee, GET EQUAL NOW, and Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies.

Among the people who deserve special thanks for their help are Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and the Dallas City Council, especially members Linda Koop, Dave Newman, Delia Jasso and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano.

Former council members Chris Luna and John Loza delivered impassioned remarks at Tuesday’s meeting, as did the Rev. Steve Sprinkle with Brite Divinity School and Rebecca Solomon with Bank of America.

At the heart of this story, though, there are two heroines. One is the unnamed transgender employee of the transit agency dubbed Ms. T-DART. The other is her friend, Pamela Curry. Without Ms. T-DART coming forward about her workplace treatment and DART’s intervention in her genetic marker change case, and without Pamela giving voice to the story, the nondiscrimination provisions may not have been expanded.

Admittedly, the language that the DART board adopted isn’t perfect. Work remains to be done. DART can only create an inclusive workplace if its culture matches its policies, which requires commitment, time and effort.

We will hold DART to the board’s intent, and continue to work with the agency as it drafts language for its policy manual reflecting the wishes of the board.

More than three months ago, Resource Center Dallas recognized the story of Ms. T-DART as an opportunity to offer resources to DART staff, who, in turn, worked with their board. From our experience providing cultural sensitivity training to corporations and public entities such as the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, we know learning and understanding happens when solid relationships are built between communities and when those communities truly listen to one another.

More often that not, people and organizations act out of a lack of understanding rather than malice.

Even before this week’s board vote, DART staff took an important first step toward understanding inclusion when it worked with Resource Center Dallas to provide training to some of its staff.

We applaud DART for addressing what it means to have a workplace that values all employees, including those who happen to be transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay. Understanding its own diverse employees will aid DART in recruiting and retention, and in serving its diverse public in north Texas.

The efforts to change DART’s policies highlight two important additional issues for the LGBT community.

First, these debates would not have even happened if a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act was the law of the land. The bill is pending in Congress, but is in danger of becoming a casualty of election year politics. As a community, we need to force our lawmakers to act on our concerns.

Second, recent events point out the need for LGBT people to serve on boards, commissions and in government to effect change from the inside.

It was 15 years ago this week that DART first expanded its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation. It took two board votes, amid opposition from at least two groups.
This time, community engagement through calls, letters and e-mails to the DART board and Dallas City Council members led to a unanimous vote.

We all should be proud of our willingness to speak out for justice and to work together. While work remains so that DART’s policy fully reflects the board’s expressed intent for protections based on gender identity and expression, we remain hopeful that the impressive collaboration of GLBT community and DART leadership will accomplish just that.

Cece Cox is associate executive director of GLBT community services for Resource Center Dallas. E-mail her at ccox@rcdallas.org. Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager at RCD. E-mail him at rmcdonnell@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice