Timothy Cwiek’s article about Saul Ewing’s partnership with TLDEF’s Name Change Project on Feb. 4 did an excellent job of describing that program and the important need that it serves. We have a long way to go before the needs of low-income transgender individuals are met, and every effort to meet those needs is welcome.
I am writing to remind PGN readers that there is a year-round, full-time program, based right here in Philadelphia, that provides free legal services to low-income transgender people, run by Mazzoni Center’s Legal Services Department.
Since our LGBT legal-services program became part of Mazzoni Center in 2010, the program has assisted thousands of LGBT people with legal needs in a broad range of areas — including nearly 1,000 individuals seeking to navigate the legal name-change process. We have provided direct representation to dozens of adults and minors in Philadelphia and neighboring counties each year.
Name changes are an important part of what we do, but only one of many important services we provide to members of the LGBT community. We represent LGBT individuals and families in a range of other areas to protect their family, themselves, and one another through adoptions and advanced planning. We represent LGBT individuals seeking recovery for discrimination in the workplace, in school, in health-care settings and in public accommodations. We represent individuals who have been denied health care or insurance coverage for medically necessary care, including transition-related surgery, because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
As your article recognizes, a legal name change is an important way that transgender people can secure documentation that reflects their gender identity that can help to avoid legal complications and unnecessary run-ins with law enforcement or other people in positions of authority.
As the article notes, Pennsylvania’s name-change process is more cumbersome than in many other jurisdictions. And even though the same statute applies throughout Pennsylvania, our experience has shown that it is important to be aware of the practices in each county because judges assigned to these petitions have their own expectations that can result in unnecessary complications for clients. So, until the General Assembly amends the name-change statutes to serve the public more efficiently, there are ways that already exist to navigate through the hurdles that are likely to remain in place for some time to come.
Very truly yours,
Thomas W. Ude, Jr.
Legal and Public Policy Director