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Law students holding gender and name change clinic

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Amelia Blakely

Law students are hosting a workshop through Sept. 30 to assist adults and minors who have parental consent seeking to legally change their name and/or gender on their birth certificates.

The Transgender Name Change and Gender Marker project, which is in its second year and is held by the School of Law, provides the free legal assistance for residents of Jackson and Williamson counties.   

Simba Woodard, a transgender student who used the service last year, said the workshop gave him greater confidence about his identity.

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Woodard, a senior from Nashville studying sociology and journalism, said he initially emailed the clinic to start the process in October of 2016, and he was able to officially change his name last April.

If it weren’t for the clinic, Woodard said he would’ve had to wait a long time to change his name legally.

“It costs too much for a college student,” Woodard said. “It would’ve taken me years to get my legal name changed.”

Beth Malone, of Murphysboro, is a third-year law student and the founder of the project. Last October, Malone said the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance reached out to her about setting up the project. The alliance operates out of Chicago and holds a similar clinic in Cook County.

In August, the Birth Certificate Modernization Bill passed the Illinois General Assembly and was signed into law. This legislation allows transgender people to change their gender markers without having to undergo surgery, a development Malone said is important because medical treatment to change gender is expensive and not everyone is medically able or willing to have surgery.

The bill also allowed the project to assist people who haven’t had gender reassignment surgery to change their genders legally, Malone said.

The clinic receives no funding, she said, and the law students and local attorneys are all volunteers. Law students who participate receive pro-bono credit, which is required for graduation, in addition to first-hand experience interviewing and representing clients, Malone said.

Though the legal assistance is free, the workshop doesn’t pay for the name-change court filing process, Malone said.

Malone said state law allows any individual filing a name or gender change case that fits the need-based financial requirements to have court fees waived.

If individuals do not qualify for the waiver, Jackson County Circuit Court name-change fees total $177 and the Williamson County Circuit Court filing fees are $215.

During the workshop’s inaugural semester in the spring of 2017, Malone said four clients were able to change their names. Three out of those four had previously had trouble changing their name before they were able to get assisted by SIU law students, she said.

Interested applicants should send an email request to [email protected] by Sept. 30.

Malone said volunteers will then work around clients’ schedules. In the spring, the court date is set for all the applicants to officially change their names or gender markers.

Even though the paperwork is something that can be done without a lawyer, Malone said the law students and local attorneys are able to provide both assistance and comfort to applicants throughout the process.

“In the transition process, everyone is in a different place,” Malone said. “It can be very painful.”

Malone said she has become close to the clients she helps.  

“They are my clients and I will treat them as such,” Malone said. “But I’ve developed a kinship with them because they knew that I cared.”

Woodard said the clinic was welcoming and provided a family-like environment.

“The lawyers were so amazing,” Woodard said. “They made us feel really comfortable.”

After a client’s name is officially changed in court, the student and local lawyers hold a rebirthing party at the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship to celebrate the birth of the client’s new identity and the end of the client’s “dead name.”

This year, the project organizers plan to invite previous clients to the rebirthing party.

“As time goes on, it will become a bigger and bigger community of supportive people,” Malone said.

Staff writer Amelia Blakely can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AmeilaBlakely.

To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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