Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund celebrates fifth anniversary

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Wednesday May 26, 2010

The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund raised an estimated $60,000 at their fifth anniversary celebration at the William Bennett Gallery in Soho on Tuesday, May 25.

David Mixner, Laverne Cox from the VH1 reality show "Transform Me" and Jon Hadity, co-chair of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's board of directors, were among the more than 200 people who attended.

"The benefit felt like the culmination of five years of working on these issues," said TLDEF executive director Michael Silverman. "One of our goals is to spread the gospel of transgender rights, and to look around the room and see all of the transgender and non-transgender people there-bankers, professionals, politicians, community members-all gathered together to support equal rights for transgender people was an amazing feeling for us."

Founded in 2005, TLDEF has represented dozens of people who have suffered discrimination based on their actual or perceived gender identity or expression. These include Zikerria Bellamy, a trans teenager who was told by the manager of an Orlando-area McDonald's "we do not hire faggots" when she applied for a job last July; and Khadijah Farmer, a lesbian who sued a Manhattan restaurant after a male bouncer kicked her and her friends out in 2007 after she used the women's restroom.

Silverman's organization also represented Helena Stone, a 70-year-old trans woman who sued the Metropolitan Transportation Authority after police officers arrested her three times in 2005 and 2006 for using the women's restroom at Grand Central Terminal. TLDEF also worked with the family of Lateisha Green, a trans woman Dwight DeLee shot to death outside a Syracuse, N.Y., house party in Nov. 2008.

The Transgender Health Initiative of New York seeks to improve trans New Yorkers' access to health care, while TLDEF continues to work with those who seek to legally change their name in the five boroughs. Silverman said all of the cases on which TLDEF has worked have the same common denominator.

"What we see in all of our cases is that people continue to be punished when they transgress gender boundaries," he said. "It doesn't matter if they identify as transgender, gay, lesbian or straight; in our cases, gender non-conformity leads to an adverse reaction."

Silverman added TLDEF "doesn't have to work to dramatize our cases" because "each one of them presents a dramatic case of facts," but he remains optimistic about the prospect of expanded rights to trans people. His organization continues to work with other LGBT groups to lobby Congress to support a trans-inclusive employment non-discrimination bill. And TLDEF was among those that applauded President Obama for signing the federal hate crimes bill into law last October.

Silverman stressed, however, anti-trans discrimination and violence remain serious problems as recent headlines have indicated. He hopes TLDEF will emerge as an even more important resource for trans people as his organization's resources continue to grow: TLDEF currently employs two full-time lawyers and is scheduled to hire another in September.

"We get calls in every state in the country, and sometimes we simply don't have the resources to respond as a small organization," said Silverman. "That continues to change."

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.