GLAD Holds Transgender Legal Representation Webinar

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Saturday May 7, 2011

More than 80 people from across the country participated in a Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders-sponsored Webinar on Wednesday, May 4, about how to better represent transgender people in family law cases.

Panelists included Patience Crozier, senior associate at the Law Office of Joyce Kauffman in Cambridge, Mass.; Spencer Bergstedt of North Sound Law and Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. They discussed a range of topics that include providing culturally competent representation to trans clients, assisting them with legally changing their name and sex designation and protecting their parental rights. The panelists also discussed ways firms can make their offices more comfortable for their trans clients.

Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD's Transgender Project, told EDGE that the Webinar is part of a "more comprehensive plan" to provide more trans-specific resources to family law attorneys. She said the ultimate goal is to increase the number of lawyers who can effectively represent trans people.

"It's a very broad spectrum of legal information we intend to cover," said Levi.

The Boston Bar Association held a seminar on May 2 for attorneys who practice in Massachusetts. GLAD plans to publish a trans-specific resource book for family law practitioners; but Levi stressed a lack of attorneys who can effectively represent trans clients who seek a divorce, child custody and legal recognition of their gender transition remains a serious problem.

"Transgender people who are going through otherwise routine divorces and worry about bias or discrimination they may face during that process," she said. "We need attorneys who can best advise them on how to pursue their case."

A number of recent cases have highlighted the difficulty trans people often face in this area. These include a trans couple in New York City who were unable to obtain a marriage license in late 2009 because they could not produce birth certificates for which the City Clerk's office had incorrectly asked. And in Texas, lawmakers are considering a bill that would bar marriage for trans people.

Aside from proposed legislation, trans people often face logistical hurdles when they try to navigate the legal system.

"They literally can't find any attorney who will take their case," said Minter.

He said incompetent counsel can prose additional problems.

"Attorneys are not supposed to take on cases where they don't understand the law, but sometimes that does happen and sometimes attorneys don't do their homework," added Minter. "That can really hurt the client."

Both Minter and Levi stressed they want to work with lawyers and legal groups to ensure trans clients have access to adequate counsel. The American Bar Association's Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, the National LGBT Bar Association and the American Bar Association's Family Law Section co-sponsored GLAD's Webinar. Minter applauded the GLAD organization's efforts.

"People are doing the best they can, but they (attorneys) don't realize they're in over their head," he said. "They don't recognize there's extra information they need to know. They don't know there are places to reach out for help. Getting the word out is going to be very helpful to address that problem."

Log onto for more information about GLAD's Transgender Rights Project.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.