Friday, September 16, 2022
Maynard’s Vital Records Project for the Transgender Community
In alignment with Maynard Cooper & Gale’s (Maynard's) diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals, we recognize the importance of maintaining accurate identification records in the transgender community. When an individual’s identification reflects an incorrect name or gender, this could lead to legal problems, job complications, and even harassment. Often, persons with incorrect identification have limited means to make the necessary changes. A need assessment study funded by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham determined that, in Alabama alone, 77% of the transgender community reported a lack of access to healthcare and legal services. On a national level, transgender individuals face disproportionate rates of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment, as well as multiple forms of discrimination such as healthcare inequality. This is why access to a helpful legal resource is beneficial for anyone with improper identification records, especially those who are transgender and do not identify with the name or information provided on birth certificates, driver and non-driver licenses, passports, or social security cards.
At Maynard, we strive to assist underserved populations by advocating for their rights. Searching for a solution to the Alabama transgender community’s incorrect records problem, firm shareholder Cynthia Lamar-Heart proposed creating a vital records clinic to a team of pro bono attorneys interested in offering legal support to marginalized individuals. If accepted, the clinic would provide advice and services to assist clients in obtaining corrected personal data including name changes and gender markers on all government-provided identity documents. The pro bono legal team enthusiastically approved, and Vital Records Project was born.
To date, Maynard has helped over 200 individuals and their families navigate court proceedings and initiate the necessary actions to change the name and birth certificates of transgender family members. The Vital Records Project, comprised of 7 attorneys in Birmingham who provide pro bono service hours, spans 27 counties in Alabama. Even Alabama-born individuals who now live in other states and countries have received support from the Maynard team.
With client safety at the forefront of our efforts, Maynard takes particular precautions to protect client privacy. Jessica Trotter, a paralegal who works closely on the project, explained, “Only a limited number of staff members assist with the Vital Records Project, and all documents remain locked within the Firm.” Additionally, while listed on the National Center for Transgender Equality’s legal services network, much of our firm’s service efforts rely on word of mouth within the transgender and non-binary communities.
The need for this project in Alabama is greater than people might expect. More attorneys are necessary in order to match the number of those in need of these changes. With a growing waitlist, Maynard seeks to expand its involved pro-bono attorney pool in order to shorten the waitlist and help more transgender individuals get their records changed.
Legally changing a name or gender description liberates a transgender person in ways that surpass holding tangible, amended documentation. A sense of validation accompanies these records. Clients reiterate a new sense of pride in knowing that they no longer have to over-explain who they are or feel embarrassed when others are not receptive to the discrepancy between the person and their identification on paper. Our team takes pride in being a part of this life-changing process. Lamar-Hart says, “I can say that this clinic is one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life, and I’m very grateful to the firm for its continuing support.”