Name Change Clinic removes equality barriers for Nebraska’s transgender community

You may not think twice about pulling out your driver’s license to verify identification — but for members of Nebraska’s transgender community seeking name changes, this action can cause anxiety, dysphoria and trauma. Legal Aid of Nebraska recognized the importance for transgender people to legally change their name and in response, established Name Change Clinics.

“Once your legal name matches the name that you use, you don’t have to be deadnamed every single time you go anywhere,” said Talia L. Hughes, former Intake Paralegal at Legal Aid of Nebraska, who helped provide LGBTQIA+ awareness and cultural competency training to not only Legal Aid employees but also to private attorneys volunteering to help in the clinics.

“Deadnaming” is the use of the birth or other former name of a transgender person or nonbinary person without the person’s consent.

“Deadnaming is really just a way to say that identity [associated with that former name], that person is dead to me and this is who I am now, and you need to use my name now,” Hughes said.

“It is a very common form of discrimination against trans people. To access medical care, you have to go in and be constantly deadnamed. Even when they say they can put my preferred name in the system. I deal with that constantly.”

“It’s just access to anything. You want to go get your meds from the pharmacy? Well, you have to deal with being deadnamed. Are you prepared for that dysphoria, that trauma, that microaggression?” Hughes said.

Name Change Clinics are free and confidential 

Legal Aid of Nebraska has held four Name Change Clinics since 2019, thanks to funds received through a partnership with Heartland Pride and also funding from the Equality Fund for LGBTQIA+ from Omaha Community Foundation.

The last Name Change Clinic was held virtually in January 2021. The clinic assisted LGBTQIA+ adults and allies with the often overwhelming name change legal process. Attendees met with attorneys virtually via an online platform and had questions answered. They completed the clinic with the paperwork necessary to legally change their name, along with instructions about the legal process.

If participants in the clinic have questions, they can follow-up with Legal Aid staff. Name Change Clinics can also assist people who are escaping a domestic violence situation and a host of other reasons, not just the LGBTQIA+ community.

 

“You want to go get your meds from the pharmacy? Well, you have to deal with being deadnamed. Are you prepared for that dysphoria, that trauma, that microagression?”

 

The Name Change Clinics happen with the help of volunteer attorneys, law students and other partners. Christine Stolarskyj, Managing Attorney of Legal Aid’s Private Attorney Involvement Program, assisted with finding volunteer attorneys to help clients at the clinics.

“With the funding we received, and by having the first few clinics, it showed us that there was a need for these clinics. With the financing to support it, we were able to do the outreach and find clients who wanted this done,” she said.

“We provide assistance primarily through pro bono attorneys who meet with clients and prepare their legal documents. Law school students and their professors also play a significant role in providing legal services. In fact, we have another one in the works with Creighton University’s School of Law clinic and pro bono program and anticipate more of these events in the future. We are grateful for the support of volunteers to make these clinics a success,” Stolarskyj said.

Trans people often feel alienated from the justice system

Hughes, who is transgender, also helped plan the Name Change Clinics. “There’s not a lot of support or understanding for trans issues in the general legal community. A lot of trans people feel alienated away from the justice system.”

“These clinics are helping people. We’re bridging the gap. It should not be this complicated. They should be able to do this on their own, but they can’t,” Hughes said.

Hughes said that it can cost anywhere from $75 to $100 to process the filing fees, paperwork and also to have the name change published in the newspaper, a Nebraska requirement.

Hughes hopes to one day complete their name change but so far has encountered setbacks with this due to the pandemic. “I knew from personal experience being a trans person and trying to figure out how to change my name that this is an important issue.

They said that Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Name Change Clinics, which began in 2019, were the first of its kind in Nebraska.

“These clinics are helping people. We’re bridging the gap. It should not be this complicated. They should be able to do this on their own, but they can’t.”

“Most states have some sort of name change project for trans people, or at least a clinic where people can go and get help with these kinds of things. Nebraska didn’t really have that,” Hughes said.

For the clinics, Legal Aid partnered with organizations like the Nebraska Volunteer Lawyer’s Project, Lincoln’s Indigo Books and the Civil Clinic at the University of Nebraska College of Law.

Expert Joni Watke, a lawyer and former PFLAG National Board Member was also a presenter at the clinic. “She [Watke] has been very influential in these spaces. She has met with every single Douglas County judge about name changes specifically,” Hughes said.

Hughes said that Watke has made it so that those seeking name change can now simply state on their legal name change petition the following: “The requested name aligns with my gender identity.”  “That’s all you need to say and it’ll be granted,” Watke said.

With the funding from Omaha Community Foundation, Legal Aid’s LGBTQIA+ Taskforce developed and facilitated staff training, education and development around LGBTQIA+ topics. The taskforce also updated Legal Aid’s case management system to include proper pronouns and legal names versus chosen names so that systems could reflect best practices.

Additionally, Legal Aid staff conducted outreach to four agencies in Omaha including Omaha Home for Boys, Project Everlast, Uta Halee Academy and Youth Emergency Services, Inc., to provide information about Legal Aid’s services and how we can help, and to facilitate referrals for clients in need of our services.

If you are an attorney or law student interesting in volunteering for the clinics, please send an email to [email protected].

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Jen Litton, Development Coordinator, is the author of this article.

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