June has been a fruitful month for New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF). Around 300 people attended their second-annual Transgender Health Fair; they raised more than $25,000 at their third anniversary fundraiser; and then they won a settlement in Khadijah Farmerâ€™s lawsuit against Caliente Cab Mexican CafĂ©.
After Farmer and friends stopped at the NYC restaurant for a 2007 post-Pride dinner, Farmer was thrown out when a Caliente bouncer decided she was too masculine to use the womenâ€™s restroom.
In the settlement, Caliente agreed to add gender identity and expression to its corporate non-discrimination policy, adopt a gender-neutral dress code and amend its policies to allow patrons and employees to use facilities consistent with their gender identity and expression.
Born female and identifying as a lesbian, Farmerâ€™s case demonstrates how discrimination based on gender expression can impact non-trans members of the queer community: for anyone with gender variance or a non-conformitive gender expression, protection against sexual orientation discrimination alone is simply not enough.
TLDEFâ€™s recent successes are all the more amazing because the organization (transgenderlegal.org) accomplishes it with a bare bones staff.
â€śThere are really very few people working at TLDEF,â€ť acknowledges Barbara Shulman. â€śBasically, thereâ€™s Michael [Silverman] and me at this point.â€ť
In her first foray into trans activism, Shulman joined TLDEF less than a year ago; prior to that she spent three decades running various departments at the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.
The 62 years-old Shulman, identifies as a Jewish woman â€śwho happened to be transgender. Thatâ€™s my history. I donâ€™t identify as transsexual, but that is part of my experience.â€ť She transitioned on the job five years ago and recalls, â€śI have the best transition of anyone that I know, at least work wise. They were really loving.â€ť
Unfortunately that was not entirely the case when it came to her family. â€śI was married and had 2 children. That was a big lossâ€”my children are lost to me. But Iâ€™ve had the strength to rise above those struggles. Now I have a loving partner and Iâ€™m very happy.â€ť
When she retired from the state in 2007â€”the first time in four decades without a jobâ€” Shulman was quickly bored. After meeting TLDEF executive director Silverman at a party, she soon signed on to coordinate the groupâ€™s Name Change Program, which provides free legal assistance for trans folk seeking legal name changes.
â€śItâ€™s been a very good marriage,â€ť Shulman says about the fit between her and the organization. â€śItâ€™s like paying forward, helping other people. Itâ€™s great being able to help.â€ť
Though Shulman and Silverman are the only two paid staffers, she says plenty of people work for TLDEF. In addition to associated law firms and a cadre of volunteers, the organization has a number of interns andâ€”with assistance from the North Star Fundâ€”has been able to offer summer employment to several queer youths.
After Shulman interviews clients, gathering the basic information needed to fill out name change forms she sends the intake material to law firms that have donated their time. They gather additional paperwork, file petitions and attend court datesâ€”all at no cost to the client.
In the first six months of the project, Shulman says she shepherded two-dozen folks through and had a similar number at various stages in a process that can take as little as three weeks and as long as four months, depending primarily on the ease of accessing critical paperwork like birth certificates and arrest records.
â€śThe name change itself is really important,â€ť Shulman insists. â€śIf you identify as a female or a male and if youâ€™re carrying around identification that says something else â€¦[and] you have to show identificationâ€¦it leads to, in many cases, discrimination, in other cases, humiliation. Itâ€™s a very difficult thing to live withâ€”this fearâ€¦not wanting to do anything, delaying going for a job, staying away from the schoolâ€”because they worry about how itâ€™ll fly when they have to present their identification.â€ť
Trans author Jacob Anderson-Minshall co-hosts QLiterati!, the monthly queer reading and open mic series held at Portland, Oregonâ€™s Q Center. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org.