#TransLawHelp Twitter Hashtag Offers Free Help & Hope For Transgender People Seeking Legal Protections
Life has never been easy for the transgender community in the United States, and with president-elect Donald Trump and his vice president-elect, Mike Pence, entering office in January, people are worried things are going to get a lot worse. That's where the the #TransLawHelp Twitter hashtag comes in: It connects lawyers offering pro-bono services with trans people who need them, particularly in the remaining months of Obama's presidency — because after Trump's presidency begins, it may no longer be an option.
For the transgender community, there are already a huge and disheartening number of complications when it comes to basic rights and protections. It can vary widely depending on what state and city you live in: For example, in many states, you can still be fired for being transgender; you can also be at risk to be evicted from your housing, or denied housing all together. But as the new administration takes their place in January, many LGBTQ people are worried that our rights will become even more limited.
The hashtag was created by Riley (Twitter handle: @dtwps), a 30-year-old software engineer and game developer from New York who identifies as non-binary femme or androgyne, in order to help transgender people across the country get their documents in order and receive legal advice before possible law changes in a few months. "I looked into some legal help for my own documents and figured other people would want the same," Riley tells Bustle in an interview. As Riley rightly notes, changing your documents and identifies, such as your passport, your social security card, and your government-issued photo ID, can be expensive, time-consuming, and frankly, confusing. That's where legal aid can make a world of difference. Donations, too, can help those who are low-income or simply don't have the money available immediately.
Matt, a lawyer based in Boston, responded to the hashtag with an offer to help transgender people in the Massachusetts area navigate name changes and identification documents. As Matt explains in an interview with Bustle, "The stated policy preferences of the next administration are a threat to LGBTQ people, people of color, Muslims, ... disabled [people], ... chronically ill [people] ... to name just some, but not all, of the groups threatened." He points out, "Because the Obama administration is still in power, and because of the way the regulations and policies governing changing gender markers works at a federal level, gender non-conforming individuals can, right now, still take advantage of the policies adopted by the Obama administration. We don't know what's going to happen after the change in administrations."
Though we can't predict the future, Matt advises people to act sooner rather than later, even if they fear that the process is daunting or confusing. As he puts it, "I'm urging folks who have considered updating their documents, especially their federal documents, and maybe have put it off because navigating the bureaucracy is daunting, to act as soon as possible." When thinking of his fellow attorneys, Matt's message is a call to action: "To quote Sen. Wellstone, this is no time for timidity. Help. Now."
Tim Bingham is another attorney who is stepping up to the plate in no small way. As he tells Bustle, he is a newly minted lawyer based in Chicago. "I am being sworn in today, Nov. 10, 2016," he explains, but he is eager to start helping the community, including pro bono help with name changes and understanding legal documents and jargon. "I am not able to take on cases in the courtroom right now," he says, "but I want to help how I can."
"I recognize that as a white, straight, cisgender male, I have various privileges in our society, and after this election I felt a greater need to use that privilege to help others," Bingham says. "My wife, Cate, saw a tweet containing #translawhelp and sent it to me. We've been blown away by how many retweets my offer to help has garnered — and overall the support has been amazing."
For the LGBTQ community in general, and especially people who are transgender or non-binary, time is of the essence and fear is real. Even if you think you haven no resources or expertise to help those in need, a supportive shoulder and a listening ear are always valuable. If you are able to, many people are donating to funds that help larger organizations, like the ACLU, while other people are donating directly to those who need assistance for legal fees. No one person can solve this situation, but we can all do our part to be active and show support.