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Transgender Patients Find Legal Help Through Free Clinic

November 16, 2023

Sensitive care for transgender patients is where the team at Hartford HealthCare’s Center for Gender Health shines; for legal advice, they defer to the experts.

A free monthly clinic now helps people wade through the legal paperwork and court appearances needed to formally transition to a new name and gender identity. The pro bono work is done through the Connecticut Transgender ID Project by lawyers from the firm Shipman & Goodwin LLP, the state’s Trans ID Clinic partner firm.

“It’s a very complicated process to change one’s name,” says Laura Saunders, PsyD, Center for Gender Health director. “There are so many layers – it starts in probate court, then goes to the DMV, birth certificate, etc. This is a way for us to help our patients and others through the process, which is a critical part of their journey.”

The clinic starts with GLAAD

GLAAD, a national LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, was looking for a Connecticut law firm interested in pro bono work advising transgender people. The organization created Trans ID Clinics, and provides training and manuals for interested attorneys.

“We always had a strong value for diversity, equity and inclusion at the firm, so when they approached us in 2022, we felt we could achieve something meaningful,” says Brenda Eckert, an attorney and pro bono coordinator for Shipman.

The firm’s long-standing professional relationship with Hartford HealthCare meant Eckert was familiar with the system’s new Center for Gender Health, and she reached out to set up clinics at its Hartford office.

The clinics coincide with the Center’s LGBTQ+ support group meeting so people can benefit from both resources, Dr. Saunders says, adding that protocols were adjusted to connect patients needing legal guidance with the clinic.

“We now ask patients at intake if they need help and support with name change. Less than half have taken steps at that point,” she says.

Helping transgender patients legalize their identity

At each Trans ID Clinic, patients and others make appointments with a Shipman attorney, who helps them fill out the paperwork needed to change names and gender markers on various forms of identification from driver’s license to passport to Social Security card, Eckert says.

“There is a very specific order of documents that is recommended, and the law is constantly changing in this area,” she explains. The manual each attorney uses is kept up to date on all requirements.

“These are things the attorneys are aware of, but the common person has no access to the information,” Dr. Saunders adds.

Attorneys answer client questions, and even take personal oaths on forms when needed, giving the packet to the person seeking the name change and finding them the appropriate probate court. The attorney will also go to court if asked, Eckert says.

Work that changes lives

To date, the clinic has helped about 40 people, adults and minors, complete the paperwork for name and gender marker change, Eckert notes.

“This reminds us that, as a professional, we can have a real, tangible impact on people’s lives. It makes us better lawyers and it makes us better people,” she says. “I’ve been very moved that many of our lawyers want a better understanding of the issues transgender individuals face.”