Ropes & Gray Celebrates Pride Month with Gender Pride Panel Discussion
In celebration of Pride Month, Ropes & Gray hosted a panel discussion focused on past, current and anticipated legal issues facing the transgender community. Held on June 9 at the Boston office and videoconferenced to the firm’s other U.S. offices, “Gender Pride: Advocating for Acceptance of Trans and Other Gender Non-Conforming Individuals” offered a broad range of perspectives from individuals and organizations on the front lines of the fight for transgender rights and acceptance. The event was moderated by Ropes & Gray hedge funds associate Gavin Alexander (Boston), co-chair of the Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Association.
Jennifer Levi, Transgender Rights Project director at Boston-based GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), delivered keynote remarks. She noted that the current political climate has made “the building of institutions within the LGBTQ community” an urgent imperative, and said that one of her first phone calls after the November presidential election was to Rosalyn Nasdor, Ropes & Gray’s director of pro bono legal services. That contact helped launch Project Validate, a pro bono initiative through which Ropes & Gray is partnering with GLAD and the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) to help transgender clients in New England obtain birth certificates and other identity documents that reflect each client’s post-transition name and gender. To date, about 175 Ropes & Gray volunteer attorneys and staff members have assisted approximately 320 clients. Project Validate is led by securities & public companies associate Emily Oldshue and business & securities litigation associate Kristi Jobson (both of Boston).
Mason Dunn, executive director of MTPC, talked about the importance of fighting the 2018 ballot challenge to Massachusetts public accommodations bill signed into law in July 2016, which extended protection to transgender individuals. He said that the mission for MTPC and supporters over the next year is to “dispel myths about trans experiences, identities and lives.”
Maxwell Ng, MTPC’s steering committee chair, spoke about the integration of MTPC’s work with Ropes & Gray’s. He praised Ropes & Gray for devoting significant pro bono time to assessing the validity of the public accommodations law ballot challenge, and noted that he is one of the people who directly benefited from Project Validate, which helped him change his gender marker on his passport and marriage certificate.
The next panelist offered a parent’s perspective on transgender issues. She noted that her child had been sad for a long time, and became happier after identifying as a boy around age 10. When he told her last summer that he wanted to go to middle school as a boy, she described how “a veil lifted” for her, and she began facing issues she never had to consider before, including the true importance of identity documents. “I didn’t want my son driving one day with a license that identifies him as a girl,” she noted. She, too, appreciated the services of Project Validate, which took her step by step through the process of changing names on her son’s birth certificate and passport, an effort that has contributed to her son’s being “one of the happiest kids” she knows. Her son and his sister also briefly addressed the group.
Polly Crozier, a senior staff attorney at GLAD, also lauded Project Validate, calling it “transformative” and noting that it removed significant administrative barriers for a family with which she has worked. She went on to discuss the specific issue of overrepresentation of LGBTQ youths in the child welfare system and described the difficulty of getting transgender children in state custody access to appropriate health care, since states often consider transgender-related care “extraordinary.” She said that she would welcome collaboration with lawyers who want to get involved in supporting transgender youths, whether by advocating with legislators or serving as mentors.
The panel presentation concluded with Ropes & Gray business & securities litigation associate Sara Perkins Jones (Boston) highlighting work that she and a Ropes & Gray team are doing in Puerto Rico to change governmental policy regarding birth certificate revisions. On April 6, Ropes & Gray, Lambda Legal and San Juan-based attorney Celina Romany-Siaca filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of three transgender Puerto Ricans and the LGBTQ rights organization Puerto Rico Para Tod@s to compel the commonwealth to allow transgender individuals to correct the gender marker on their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity. Puerto Rico categorically prohibits changes to the gender marker on birth certificates, even for individuals whose birth certificate does not match their gender identity. The lawsuit argues that denying transgender Puerto Ricans the ability to obtain accurate birth certificates violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution, and that forcing transgender Puerto Ricans, through their birth certificates, to identify with a gender that does not reflect their gender identity violates First Amendment free speech rights. The Ropes & Gray team is led by business & securities litigation partner Dan O’Connor (Boston) and also includes business & securities litigation partner Richard Batchelder (Boston), associates Aliki Sofis and David Soutter (both of Boston), and government enforcement associate Bonnie Doyle (New York).