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How Lawyers Can Help Fight for Transgender Rights

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on November 20, 2015 12:07 PM

Transgender people have seen unprecedented growth in public visibility lately, what with the public transition of Caitlyn Jenner and award-winning shows like Transparent. But even as the national awareness of transgender issues grows, transgender individuals continue to face discrimination, violence, and shockingly high rates of homelessness and suicide.

Today marks the 16th annual Transgender Remembrance Day, where we remember the transgender people who have been murdered over the past year -- at least 81 in total, largely women of color -- and pledge to fight for greater equality. In that spirit, here are some ways lawyers can help in the fight for transgender rights.

Transgender Issues 101

Transgender people, for those out of the loop, are individuals who identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. They often face marginalization, discrimination, and, as the day of remembrance reminds us, violence. Transgender youth in particular face high rates of abuse, homelessness, and suicide.

Aside from these issues, transitioning into one's "authentic" gender can lead to a host of difficulties, from getting health programs to cover hormone therapy to updating state identification with new names.

The Role of Lawyers

Thankfully, lawyers are especially well-suited to help aid transgender individuals. There are, of course, the civil rights lawsuits to be filed. But there is also administrative advocacy to be done, non-discrimination policies to be enforced, and harassed clients to defend. Lawyers can help transgender people by advising them of their rights, walking them through administrative processes, and advocating for their access to important services.

But, of course, you don't need to reinvent the wheel. You can seek pro bono opportunities with transgender rights organizations such as the Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the LGBT Bar Association, and local LGBT legal organizations. The Transgender Law Center, for example, is currently looking for volunteers to help advocate for transgender rights in prisons, jails, and detention centers.

Don't overlook your state bar association, either. Most states will have an LGBT section of their bar, while some have organizations dedicated specifically to transgender issues. If they don't, starting one is a great way to bring legal attention to transgender issues.

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