Judges, litigators hear information on challenges facing trans people
Changing your gender requires cutting through a lot of red tape, and in Texas, that means defending your decision to a judge.
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and Gender, Education, Advocacy & Resources (GEAR) partnered to present the Transgender Legal Forum at the Resource Center of Dallas last week. Eight judges and several litigators joined more than 30 community folks to learn about the legal hardships that transgender people face.
According to organizers, the judges were attentive and inquisitive, and often chimed in on the legal debate.
Jessica Davis, a founding member of GEAR, gave a general overview of gender identity and expression. Gender identity is how someone feels on the inside about their gender, she said, while gender expression is the person one presents to the world. Those two don’t always line up and they can change over time, she said.
Gender theory commonly refers to the gender spectrum, with masculine on one pole and feminine on the other. Most folks fall in between, and this can also shift over time. Changing one’s gender expression is usually the climax of a lifetime of longing for transgender folks, said Davis, who also works at the Resource Center as an executive administrative assistant.
“For a lot of transgender individuals, changing your name and gender is monumental in transition,” she said. “They are celebrated as a second birth.”
Even though the city of Dallas does have a non-discrimination ordinance that covers employment, housing and public accommodations for trans people, there is no system in place to facilitate changing documents, said Davis. She said that some judges have refused name and gender changes because they will not be “activist judges.”
“As in the GLB communities, the transgender community faces many legal issues,” said Davis. “At each point, while our community shares issues facing us all, there is a bit of a twist [for transgender folks].”
In order to change one’s gender mark on a Texas driver’s license, the Texas Department of Public Safety requires a court order. Corrected birth certificates are issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Vital Statistics Office, and passports are issued by federal passport processing centers.
Cole Thaler, a transgender rights attorney for Lambda Legal spoke on the process transgender people go through to change their name and gender on documents.
“Many transgender people have difficulty obtaining identity documents that accurately reflect gender,” he said. “The hurdles are typically the result of government officials who don’t understand that transgender people are accurately presenting ourselves to the world, and that both law enforcement and safety goals are served by issuing proper identification.”
Davis noted that presenting one’s passport and driver’s license, when it doesn’t match their gender expression, can cause “undue stress and embarrassment.” She argued that facilitating the changes would aid security procedures rather than hinder them.
Thaler went on to discuss workplace discrimination claims, family law issues and privacy concerns. Currently, he is working on a discrimination claim for a Houston woman whose job offer was revoked when the employer learned she was transgender.
Thaler said he was pleased with the strong turnout of legal professionals at the forum.
“It is particularly important for judges to learn about the legal issues facing the transgender community, because gender transition often brings transgender people into the courtroom if for no other reason than a name change,” said Thaler. “The judges in attendance at last week’s presentation will already have a working knowledge of the legal context and the transgender community itself.”
Davis concurred, but said that it will take more than one night and one talk to make a significant change.
The Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance and the Stonewall Democrats both showed their support at the forum.
Although Stonewall President Jesse Garcia said that he wished more folks from the LGBT lawyer community and the trans community had attended, he thought the meeting was quite informative. He said he learned that 60 to 90 percent of the transgender community is unemployed and that there is a high rate of suicide, as well.
“Our transgendered brothers and sisters just want to live their lives independently, but stigma and ignorance relegates some to living in the shadows,” Garcia said.
To learn more, go online to LambdaLegal.org. GEAR sponsors a mixer at Ciudad on Oak Lawn Avenue on the last Thursday of every month.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 26, 2007