The University of Michigan hosted an information session Monday to spread awareness about what the recent presidential election means for the transgender community as one of the first events of Transgender Awareness Week.
Twenty-seven students, faculty and Spectrum Center staff gathered in the Central Student Government chambers of the Michigan Union for the discussion, hosted by Michigan Outlaws, the Law School’s LGBTQ student organization, and Michigan OUTreach, the School of Social Work’s LGBTQ student organization.
Members of Michigan Outlaws and OUTreach started off the session by reviewing the legal process for name changes. They also announced there will be a name change clinic Feb. 11 at the Jim Troy Center for transgender, gender non-conforming and gender non-binary individuals who are looking for assistance in changing their names. The Jim Toy Community Center’s Know Your Rights Project is an Ann Arbor-based organization for students and members of the LGBTQ community who are looking for support and legal advice, and offers free consultations on a variety of practice areas along with name changes, including custody, divorce and gender marker corrections.
Third-year law student Andrew Eberle, who spoke at the event, noted that changing a name in Michigan can cost up to $300 due to the high cost of filing a petition, processing a background check and other hearing fees, making it a financial burden for many.
During the discussion, Social Work students Brendon Holloway and Stephanie Skinner, Spectrum Center graduate coordinators, both said they did not believe getting a gender marker changed on a birth certificate should require proof of surgery, as is currently the law in Michigan. The state currently requires residents to have undergone surgery by presenting a physician’s medical affidavit to change the gender marker on a birth certificate. In some states, the gender marker on your birth certificate is the one that will remain on the birth certificate, regardless of gender identity and gender transition.
Holloway, who identifies as transgender, said gender identification is different for everyone and that the law is far too constricting.
“Some people who are trans don’t even want their names changed, whereas others want their name changed, they want their gender marker changed,” Holloway said. “It’s on an individual basis at the end of the day.
The speakers suggested individuals change their names on their passports sooner rather than later due to potential setbacks LGBTQ rights may face following the election of Donald Trump. Vice president-elect Mike Pence, governor of Indiana, has criticized the Obama administration’s recommendation to schools to treat transgender students in accordance with their gender identity and had endorsed conversion therapy — a widely rejected practice claiming to undo homosexuality — when running for Congress in 2000, according to CNN.
Both Skinner and Holloway said though the election results have been upsetting to them and their LGBTQ friends, and they will continue to fight and spread awareness for LGBTQ progress.
“It is really nice to see people saying ‘OK, I have had my mourning time and now it is time to fight,’ ” Skinner said. “You don’t have to be trans to advocate for this. We are trying to reach everyone.”
Speakers also noted that after Trump is inaugurated in January, he will appoint a new Supreme Court justice, which may influence the results of Supreme Court cases that directly affect the LGBTQ community. University law students mentioned a few cases that have been in the forefront of the media in recent months like the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which protects transgender people from discrimination in health care access. Additionally, the cited the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy who sued his Virginia school district to use the boy’s bathroom, and Aimee Stephens, a transgender employee at a Michigan funeral home who was fired for refusing to wear clothing designated for her biological sex.
Law graduate student Shannon Niznik, who serves as an Outlaws board chair along with Eberle, told the crowd that it has been uplifting to know there is discussion and efforts for change among the lawyers across the nation.
“There are so many brilliant legal scholars from all over the nation spitballing ideas on different kinds of things,” Niznick said. “There are arguments, there is hope, there is stuff happening.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this story misspelled conversion therapy.