A Special 5th Anniversary Message
Happy Spring! It's hard to believe, but we're fast approaching TLDEF's 5th anniversary! What a remarkable journey it's been. When we started the organization, we had nothing. I mean no office, no telephones, no computers, and no money to change any of that. As word started to spread throughout the community in New York City that we were providing high-quality legal services to people who experienced discrimination because of their gender identity or expression, clients found us. We'd meet them in borrowed conference rooms around town, and we never let our utter lack of resources stop us from pursuing our work when we knew it was the right thing to do. If we learned anything in those early days, it was how to harness nothing more than the sheer force of will to reach our goals.
The cases kept coming and the organization began to grow. We got a telephone! And our friends at the Transgender Project took us in and housed us at what became our first office. We had a big victory on restroom access, reaching the first-ever settlement under the New York City Human Rights law guaranteeing transgender New Yorkers the right to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
And we quickly learned that the prize for winning the pie-eating contest was more pie. :-) Calls began pouring in. We represented Helena Stone, a then-70-year-old transgender woman who was arrested three times by Metropolitan Transportation Authority police for using the women's restroom at Grand Central Terminal, where she worked repairing public telephones.
We took on Khadijah Farmer’s case after she was thrown out of a Manhattan restaurant because the restaurant thought she looked to masculine to be in the women’s restroom. Our community organizing project, the Transgender Health Initiative of New York, took off, coordinating enormous community health fairs designed to improve access to health care for transgender New Yorkers.
The work has been difficult. Some our proudest and darkest moments came representing Lateisha Green’s family. Lateisha was a young African-American transgender woman who was shot and killed in Syracuse, New York just because of who she was. In the end, her killer’s hate crime conviction was just the second in United States history (and the first in New York) stemming from the death of a transgender person. Her case was much talked about in connection with the passage last year of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
And somewhere in the midst of all of our case work, we launched the Name Change Project with the idea that we could bring the resources of the private bar to bear on a problem facing the transgender community. Starting with a few volunteers one night in the East Village, we threw open our doors to some 30 people who had heard about what we were doing and wanted help with the legal name change process. We had expected a trickle, but faced a flood. And then a remarkable thing happened. We told people about the unbelievable need for help in the community. And they responded. Today, some 250 lawyers at some of the world’s most prestigious law firms have helped hundreds of people make their legal identities match who they are and how they live their lives. Even the New York Times has gotten in on the act, christening New York City a capital of name changes for transgender people!
The work isn’t done. We continue to fight in Florida for Zikerria Bellamy, who at 17-years-old was told by McDonald’s that they would not hire her because she is transgender. Only they didn’t say it quite that nicely. If you haven’t already heard the voicemail message that Zikerria received, you might want to listen to it here. But caution: it’s graphic and upsetting. Zikerria’s case reminds us why the work we do is so important. If a young transgender woman can’t get her foot in the door for an entry-level job like one at McDonald’s, what does the future hold for her? What message does it send to young transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual youth if we don’t fight tooth and nail to ensure that they have all the opportunities that any young person should have? This is why we do what we do.
Enough about work. On May 25th, we’re taking a break. That evening, here in New York City, we’ll be hosting our 5th Anniversary Benefit, celebrating the remarkable work you’ve helped us accomplish. All of you, our friends and supporters, have been a part of it, and we’d like to share the celebration with you. We’ve got more information about the benefit below. I hope that we’ll see you there, and that you’ll continue to support our work even if you can’t make it that night. We can’t do this without you.
Thank you for taking this not-so-brief trip down memory lane with me. It’s been a privilege to be a part of this remarkable journey that we’ve taken together. I look forward to future successes as we continue to work for equal rights and a world where each of us is free to be who we are.Best wishes,