In This Issue
- Executive Director’s Message
- President Obama Signs Federal Hate Crimes Law
- Queens County Grand Jury Indicts Two on Hate Crime Charges in Brutal Beating of Leslie Mora
- Appellate Court Strikes Down “Doctor’s Note” Requirement for Transgender Name Changes
- We're Hiring a Staff Attorney
- We've Moved!
Executive Director’s Message
Greetings, and welcome to TLDEF’s Winter quarterly newsletter. I'm excited to be writing to you from our new home in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood. We were fortunate to be able to relocate to larger and more modern office space last month, and it's really working out well.
It's been a remarkable few months. President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the first major piece of national civil rights legislation for transgender Americans. The Act broadens the definition of federal hate crimes to include those motivated by a victim's gender identity or sexual orientation. It gives victims the same federal safeguards already afforded to people who are attacked because of their race, color, religion or national origin.
When we worked on behalf of Leslie Mora, Carmella Etienne and Lateisha Green's family over the past few months, we did it because they needed our help and because we knew that their powerful stories could change the hearts and minds of people who heard them. And we were keenly aware that changing hearts and minds is an essential ingredient in ensuring the passage of legislation like the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
We're also devoting our attention to employment discrimination and the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA is currently pending in Congress, and if it becomes law, it would ban employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Many people do not realize the extent to which employment discrimination limits the ability of LGBT Americans to achieve full equality. Many Americans don’t know that in most of the United States, employers are still able to fire people simply for being transgender or gay.
With ENDA pending in Congress, it's time to change that. The more that people learn about the ways in which hard working LGBT Americans are refused jobs and fired just because of who they are, the more they understand the need for comprehensive transgender-inclusive federal employment protections. In the same way we focused on bias-motivated violence to educate Americans about the need for transgender-inclusive hate crime laws, we're going to turn our focus to employment, and to educating Americans about the importance of job protections for members of the LGBT community. Now is the time to act.
I hope that you’ll enjoy reading about our work in this quarter’s newsletter. And I hope that you'll contact us with your feedback. We love hearing from you!
As always, thank you for supporting our work for equal rights. We wish you a wonderful holiday season, and a happy new year!
On October 28, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a major piece of national civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. The Act broadens the definition of federal hate crimes to include those motivated by a victim's gender identity or sexual orientation. It gives victims the same federal safeguards already afforded to people who are attacked because of their race, color, religion or national origin.
This is huge. Our supporters have spoken out, written letters to elected officials, and signed petitions demanding hate crime protections for our community. Your efforts have paid off in a big way.
We've spent countless hours working to educate the public about the urgent need for LGBT-inclusive hate crimes legislation. Those efforts have paid off, too. On October 28, 30 of the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV advocacy organizations issued a statement marking this historic event. The statement spoke about Lateisha Green, and we were grateful that the work we had done to ensure that her death would not be in vain had paid off. The world has taken notice.
Hate-motivated violence doesn't just target an individual. It targets an entire community, and it's meant to make us fearful on the streets where we live, work, and socialize. It undermines the promise of equality, and it affects us all on a deeply personal level. Today, there is a sense of hope. Justice has arrived.
You can spin a globe, drop your finger down on it, and be pretty well assured that it will land on a spot in the world where LGBT people are targeted for hate violence, and where the government either turns a blind eye to that violence, or actively encourages and even participates in it. To have our government - finally - say that things must be different and that it will use the resources at its disposal to combat the hate violence that LGBT people still face on a daily basis sends a powerful message to Americans and to the world.
Today, we took a huge step forward on the road to equal rights. There's still so much to be done, but with your continued support, we will put an end to violence and discrimination directed at people simply because they live openly and honestly as who they are.
On June 19, 2009, Leslie Mora was attacked by two men motivated by anti-transgender bias. We've been working with her since that time to ensure that she receives a measure of justice. While the wheels of justice may turn slowly, they do eventually turn. On November 20, a Queens County grand jury indicted the two men accused of brutally beating her on hate crime charges.
Leslie was walking home from a nightclub on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights around 2:30 a.m. on June 19, 2009, at the height of LGBT Pride month, when two men accosted her and brutally beat her with a belt. They stopped only when a passing motorist threatened to call the police. Leslie's assailants repeatedly used anti-gay and anti-transgender slurs against her in Spanish. The attack left Leslie with multiple injuries, including bruises all over her body, and stitches in her scalp. Police called to the scene found Leslie nearly naked and bleeding on the sidewalk. They also recovered a belt buckle from the assailants that was covered in blood.
Leslie’s assailants, Trinidad Tapia, 19, and Gilberto Ortiz, 32, fled the scene, but police arrested them soon after the attack. Both were charged with assault with intent to cause physical injury with a weapon, and released on their own recognizance. Neither was charged with a hate crime when first arrested.
Along with New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane and the members of the New York State Assembly LGB Caucus, we demanded in June that the Queens County District Attorney fully investigate the attack on Leslie as a hate crime. I was attacked because of who I am,” Leslie said. "I want to make sure that this does not happen to other transgender people and I am relieved to know that the people who did this to me will be brought to justice." With the addition of hate crime charges, Leslie's attackers face a minimum of three and a half years in prison if convicted.
On October 21, a New York State appeals court struck down a lower court’s requirement that transgender people seeking to change their names provide medical evidence of their need for the name change. The ruling was handed down in an appeal we filed on behalf of Olin Winn-Ritzenberg, a transgender man whose petition to change his name to Olin was denied by the lower court because he had failed to provide a letter from a doctor, therapist or social worker establishing his need to change his name.
But the appellate court wrote, "[t]here is no sound basis in law or policy to engraft upon the statutory provisions an additional requirement that a transgendered-petitioner present medical substantiation for the desired name change." The court's decision sends a powerful message that transgender people must be treated equally and that they cannot be subjected to different legal requirements than everyone else. People’s names are fundamental to their identities. This decision confirms that each one of us has the right to be known by a name we choose. That decision can’t be second-guessed by doctors, therapists or anyone else simply because someone is transgender.
Upon learning of the ruling, Olin said, "This means that I can finally change my name and move forward with my life. My gender transition has been a very personal journey, and no one is in a better position to decide that I need to change my name than I am."
We were lucky to have the assistance of some incredibly talented lawyers, including Brenna DeVaney, Benjamin Edwards, Daniel Gonen, and Janson Mao, who served with us as Olin's co-counsel. Daniel admirably argued the appeal. And our friends at Debevoise & Plimpton and Lambda Legal submitted a stellar brief in support of Olin's appeal. You can read the appeal brief we submitted on Olin's behalf here.
We'd be remiss if we failed to acknowledge Olin's perseverance throughout the long appeal process. Instead of complying with a lower court requirement that we all knew was unjust (and that had been imposed upon many other people), he chose to fight it, delaying his own name change for many months to finally put an end to the practice of subjecting transgender name change applicants to this burdensome and demeaning doctor's note requirement. Thank you, Olin!
Olin changed his name through TLDEF's Name Change Project, which provides free and low-cost name changes by matching transgender community members in New York City with lawyers in private practice who provide their services free of charge. If you or someone you know needs help with a name change, please contact us.
Many months ago, when we first filed this appeal, we asked the question, "Who Decides?" Who decides what your gender identity is? Doctors, government officials, and agency administrators? Or each one of us as autonomous individuals? After many months, we're very happy to have closed the circle with a victory for freedom and self-determination.
We're hiring... and we need your help to fill the position! We're very excited to be hiring a staff attorney to help us expand and enrich the legal services we provide. A full job description is posted below, and has also been posted at idealist.org and other job-search web sites. But many of you, our friends and supporters, know people who might be great candidates for the job. We want to have as diverse and talented an applicant pool as possible, and you can help us by forwarding this page (just copy the URL above into an email message) to committed and motivated lawyers who might be interested in applying for the position.
Staff Attorney Job Description & Application Instructions
Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund is seeking a staff attorney to work on issues of discrimination based upon gender identity and expression, and to provide legal support to our Name Change Project. One to three years of relevant litigation experience, civil rights practice or work in the transgender community strongly preferred.
TLDEF is a not-for-profit civil rights law firm committed to ending discrimination based upon gender identity and expression and to achieving equality for transgender people through public education, test-case litigation, direct legal services, community organizing and public policy efforts.
The Name Change Project provides free and low cost legal name changes to community members through TLDEF’s partnerships with some of New York City’s most prestigious law firms.
The staff attorney will be working in a busy social justice law practice, using a range of advocacy strategies, including litigation, direct legal services through the Name Change Project, legislative advocacy & policy reform, media, public education, community organizing, and advocacy with administrative agencies. The docket will include a range of civil rights issues in access to public accommodations, including health care, housing, and employment, as well as the provision of legal support to the Name Change Project.
Applications are encouraged from attorneys with one to three years of relevant litigation experience. Applicants must demonstrate commitment to the struggle against discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and to achieving equality for transgender people. Applicants must have top litigation skills, determination, and a passion for working with and on behalf of transgender and gender non-conforming people. Excellent writing, analytic and public speaking skills are essential, as is the ability to work as part of a team in a fast-paced environment. The ability to speak Spanish is a strong plus.
Please send applications to TLDEF, 151 West 19th Street, Suite 1103, New York, NY 10011. Applications by email to email@example.com are encouraged. Applications must include a cover letter, resume, writing sample and three references (including daytime telephone numbers). Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, but must be submitted by December 15, 2009.
TLDEF is an affirmative action employer. Transgender and gender non-conforming people, lesbians, gay men, people of color and people with disabilities are strongly encouraged to apply.
With our staff and our practice expanding, it was time for us to leave our home on the Bowery to set up shop in new Chelsea digs. With space to meet our current and future needs, we think our new home will enable us to grow as we continue to expand and enrich the services we provide.
Our new address is:
151 West 19th Street
New York, New York 10011
Click here for directions to our office.