Graduate of Temple University School of Law. Former judicial clerk, Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Successful litigant in civil-rights cases. Speaker and author. These are some of the accomplishments of Kristine W. Holt. A licensed member of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey bars, Holt has a thriving practice that covers everything from family law and estate planning to business matters to civil-rights issues. As she puts it, she is “a member of the community, serving the community” — and then some.
PGN: Where are you originally from? KH: North central, Northwest Pennsylvania. The deep sticks. Republican country.
PGN: Wasn’t it James Carville who said that Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between? KH: Definitely. Before I moved to Philadelphia, I lived in Venango County. It was very small; I think Fishtown has more people than in that whole county. There was only one judge and he was the chair of the Republican Party, so that gives you an idea of what it was like up there.
PGN: Were you an only child? KH: No, I was the oldest of three. I had two younger sisters.
PGN: What did your parents do? KH: My dad was a schoolteacher and, for a brief time, he was a principal. We moved to Delaware so that he could pursue his doctorate degree, but soon after he got the job he decided he didn’t care for it. There was a lot of BS, and he finally realized that his heart was in teaching, so he went back to that. My mother did sales and retail and, on occasion, did administrative work at the school. They also owned a clothing shop in downtown Franklin, which was the county seat of Venango until a fortuitous fire took out the whole building.
PGN: What were you like as a kid? KH: Just a typical kid.
PGN: What was your favorite TV show? KH: It’s funny that you asked that: One of my friends was doing a thing online where instead of posting your picture on Facebook, you post a picture of your favorite cartoon character, so I was just thinking about it this morning. There was a television show on channel 7, out of Buffalo, called “Rocketship 7.” It was just a guy with a second guy in a cardboard box with dryer hoses sticking out acting as a robot. Very chintzy but fun. You really got to use your imagination. Every morning we’d wake up and go sit on the heat register, turn on our old black-and-white TV and watch it.
PGN: And holiday traditions? KH: My mom’s family is very close — all Irish Catholic from the Indiana area. And we’d all spend the holidays with my aunt and cousins and have a big dinner. Because it was the beginning of the hunting season, we’d have a lot to eat. [Laughs.] There’s great hunting in Venango County because there are hardly any people there. I did some hunting with my dad, but I didn’t care for the cold at the time. Then the parents got older and started going to Florida, but now I have my own kids, so we’ve started our own traditions. This year we went up to Northwest Pennsylvania where two of my kids and grandkids live. We had a big dinner and all went out hunting. My son got me back into it. It’s easier now that we’ve got thermal underwear and hand warmers, etc. The prospect of a freezer full of meat is good incentive too.
PGN: Where did you go to school? KH: I did a year at Indiana University but I left because I was doing a lot of other things. I worked as a musician in a bunch of nightclub bands, doing rock and cover music. I’d decided I wanted to be a rock-and-roll star instead of a chemistry teacher. I did pretty well with that, but could see that I’d always be a journeyman. We could fill small halls, but would never be the ones packing the stadiums. It was a living but at 25, I went back and finished my undergrad degree. I went to Clarion University and got a degree in psychology.
PGN: What instrument did you play? KH: Primarily the electric bass. In band, I played the trombone and tuba — always the big instruments, including the upright bass. I paid my way through undergrad by playing nightclubs. After I graduated, I went out touring for a few years, but I eventually got a job with the city back at home. I needed something with benefits, so I began to work for Child Protective Services doing abuse investigations.
PGN: What made you get into that? KH: That’s about all you could do with a psychology degree — social work.
PGN: Why psychology? Were you always curious about other people? KH: [Laughs.] Not really! I was curious about myself. Which obviously was a running theme in my life: Why am I the way I am? After a few years working for the county, I got into a relationship and we had a couple of kids. Working in child services was a sucky job, so I left that as soon as I could.
PGN: Any memorable moments? KH: Just a lot of fathers abusing stepdaughters. It seemed to be the dominant theme. After I left that, I worked for a quasi-government agency doing job training. It was much more rewarding than knocking on people’s doors to tell them they had a problem.
PGN: Did you marry the person you had the kids with? KH: [Chuckles.] Uh, toward the end we did! We had two kids and a stepdaughter. And now I have two grandkids.
PGN: Tell me about coming out. KH: Well, as I alluded to before, I went into psychology to find out what was going on in my head. While I was working for the job-training agency, I did some major restructuring in my life. My wife and I separated and I quit drinking, which was a major restructure, and came face to face with some of my issues and decided to do something about them. I ended up getting fired. That was in 1992 and I had started transitioning in July.
PGN: And the firing was because of the transitioning? KH: Unequivocally, definitely, without a doubt. But at that time, I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it. At least that’s what they told me, but I started looking up human-relations actions that I could take since it was funded by federal money. I found an attorney who was willing to help me. In order to defray some of the costs, I did a lot of my own legal research. The attorney told me that I did a good job and should think about going into law as a career. So I moved to Philadelphia in 1995 and went to Temple University to study law.
PGN: It sounds like that Hillary Swank movie [“Conviction”] where she plays a woman whose brother is wrongly imprisoned. She spends nearly two decades putting herself through law school so she can defend him. KH: Wow. I’m not familiar with that. While I was in Venango, I had been working for a government agency and was involved in local politics, so I decided to run for office. I ran for county commissioner and did OK.
PGN: You ran as an openly trans person? KH: Yes, and I came in fourth out of seven candidates. It was fun: I guess it was my 15 minutes of fame.
PGN: Pretty good. What came next? KH: Temple and, after that, I worked for a year in Wilkes-Barre before starting my practice in Philly.
PGN: What are your top concerns? KH: I primarily do bankruptcy and family stuff, everything from marital issues to child-support issues. I get a lot of people in domestic partnerships wanting to get wills and power-of-attorney documents drawn up. Employment can be an issue for a lot of LGBT people, so a lot opt to go into business for themselves. I do incorporations, trademark registration, etc., if necessary. Property disputes can get interesting too. If you’re married, it’s pretty clear-cut: You file for divorce and there are certain rules that apply. But without the benefit of a recognized relationship, there’s not a recognized way of dissolving it. You usually have to file an action to partition the property and figure it out from there. There’s a lot involved, so I get a lot of that type of work.
PGN: You don’t just send them to Judge Judy with a handful of receipts? KH: She’d probably just throw us all out!
PGN: One of the things I read on your website was an article you’d written about military policy back in 1998. It stated, “It should also be noted that no purported ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy exists for transgender persons in the military. When a court is asked to rule on the discharge of a transgender serviceperson, it uses rationale tailored specifically to the transgender condition, as distinct from the reasoning used against gay or lesbian servicepeople.” KH: Yeah, well think about it. How do you not “tell”? If you’re transitioning, it’s pretty obvious. Keep in mind that was written 12 years ago; some things may have changed since then.
PGN: The article also stated that popular trans-myth has it that one of the reasons the military began placing women in more combat positions during the Gulf War was because one particular hot-shot fighter pilot had undergone transition and become a woman; her talents were so desired that top brass was willing to change the rules regarding women’s duties in order to have her return. Now that would make a great Hillary Swank movie! But I digress. What do you do away from work? KH: I play music, we farm, my partner and I. We have a four-acre farm in New Jersey and a greenhouse that’s about 13,000 square feet. That’s my partner’s business. She has a garden center in Voorhees. So of course I help, hanging baskets and potting plants.
PGN: Something great about her? KH: Well, she loves me! And I love her. We really click on a lot of different levels. We got a civil union in New Jersey.
PGN: The law is fuzzy with that, isn’t it? I remember reading a case about a person who’d transitioned male-to-female and because “he” married a female-born woman, they were considered legally married as opposed to doing a civil union, even though she was now legally female. KH: Yeah, it’s unclear. If you have a married man and a woman and one of them transitions, what happens to the marriage? Are they now a legal same-sex marriage? In most cases, unless they purposely dissolve the marriage, it stays on the books. It’s one of those weird limbo states. In law, nothing goes away automatically. I’ve had a number of clients discover that the hard way. They’ll be responsible for child support and just assume that when a child turns 18, it’s over, but the state keeps deducting until notified otherwise. I just tell people, treat it as a valid marriage until an insurance company or someone decides to challenge it.
PGN: What was the hardest thing about starting your practice? KH: Getting through the first year, building a clientele. I’d saved some money and also got a nice settlement in the job-training case, so that helped me weather through until cash started coming through the other side of the pipeline.
PGN: Random questions: a time when you were terrified? KH: [Laughs.] Oh boy, I don’t know. Having stage fright? Either actually on stage with an instrument or in a courtroom. No, there was a time when I was terrified. My daughter was coming home from a friend’s house and got hit by a car. She was in first grade, I believe. It was two days before Christmas. A neighbor came to the door yelling, “Your daughter’s been hit by a car!” I looked out and she was lying in the street ... I ran out and laid in the road with her. [Tears up.] She was trying to get up and was obviously having difficulty doing it. She kept saying, “I just want to go home ... ” and I kept telling her, “Not yet, not yet.” I put my arms around her and waited for the ambulance to come. [Long pause.] That was awful: not knowing how badly she was hurt or if she’d be OK. She was in a body cast for four months.
PGN: I feel like Barbara Walters, making you cry! So happy times, what’s the best gift you’ve ever received? KH: The love of family and friends. I’m very lucky.
PGN: So the family was accepting? KH: Yes, well the kids were very young primarily and I give my ex credit that there was no animosity generated after we separated.
PGN: If you could do a duet with someone, who would you choose? KH: Good Lord. I’d sing “Working Class Hero” with John Lennon.
PGN: A great memory with the kids? KH: When I was first in Philly, I lived in small apartment in Fishtown. The kids would visit me and I would take them on day trips. We’d go down to the shore since they’d never seen the ocean before, out to Hershey Park, New York, D.C., etc. When we went to New York, we went to the top of the World Trade Center and later, after the 9/11 incident, my daughter said, “Wow, it’s a good thing we went there and took pictures!” My daughter was also a huge Kurt Cobain fan. I happened to be in Seattle at the time he committed suicide so I bought up all the local newspapers and all the memorabilia I could get. She took it to class and told me she was the most popular kid in school that week. I have a whole slew of things like that. There were bad times too; as a parent, you always have regrets where you say, “Gee, I wished I hadn’t done that” and sometimes it’s important things and sometimes it’s just the smallest miniscule thing you didn’t even think much of that was important to your kid. But, all in all, I have a lifetime of good memories with them and more to come.