The University of Michigan’s Outlaws and OUTreach student organizations hosted “#TransMatters in Law,” at the Trotter Multicultural Center on Friday. The event discussed the current status of name changes, gender markers and current law related to transgender rights.
The event started with an overview of the name-changing process of an individual in Michigan, which involves five major steps: filing a petition, going through fingerprint and background checks, filing required documents, publication of the name change in legal journals and attending a hearing.
Law School student Richard Phillips is a member of OUTreach, a law-student-run, pro bono project team aimed at advocating for LGBTQ rights. Phillips explained the current state of name changing in Michigan.
“I think there is this idea that doing legal changes and taking control of your own identity and changing something as intimate as your own name is something that one can do easily,” Phillips said. “But as you will find, with even just some cursory research, you will find that there is this convoluted process, and it cost a lot of money.”
The presentation discussed the most common reasons a name-change request can be denied — fraudulent intentions. Examples of fraudulent intent include using a different name to escape creditors, conducting financial frauds, etc.
Attorney S. Kerene Moore, who advises OUTreach, explained individuals with criminal records can still have their names changed as long as the crime committed is not major and has no fraudulent implication.
“The most important thing when it comes to name change is to prove that you are not using that change for potential fraud or to deceive creditors,” Moore said.
When asked about potential concerns of privacy regarding the required publication process in name changing — a mandate that all name changes in Michigan must be published in the legal news — Moore explained the process. She said the publication is mandated by the court for a variety of reasons, and is very common in the legal industry.
“Attorneys do a lot of publications,” Moore said. “Divorces, bankruptcies, etc. The judges may also say that it’s for creditors’ purposes to ensure the name change is not used for fraudulent intent, and nobody really reads the legal news anyway besides attorneys.”
Moore then suggested that for individuals who worry the publication may cause danger for themselves, a request for a protective order can be filed to waive the publication. However, Moore also mentioned the approval rate for such a request is relatively low in Washtenaw County.
Law School student Philip Ross, a member of OUTreach, addressed anxiety regarding the hearing process.
“Most people think of the hearing as this stressful, complicated process,” Ross said. “But in most cases, the hearing will take no more than 10 minutes. The judges in Washtenaw County are also helpful and won’t be asking any trick questions besides the six required ones.”
The event ended with a breakdown of recent legal issues regarding the LGBTQ community, which included a discussion on the EEOC v. Harris Funeral Homes Supreme Court case. The case debates whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against transgender employees based on their status as transgender or sex stereotyping.
Phillips explained the importance of holding information sessions like this, and how he and his project team want to provide help to the LGBTQ community through future events.
“The most vulnerable members of our community can’t change their name easily on their own,” Phillips said. “And we want to change that, we want to put the information out there so people can advocate for themselves and take their identity in their own hands.”
LSA freshman Josephine Swaney enjoyed the event and thought the University should be doing more to help.
“I think it is really important for there to be more things like this and for the University to do more to support,” Swaney said. “Like making it easier for trans students to update their gender at the University, and improvements with University Housing and all that.”
At the event OUTreach announced the organization is planning on holding a name-change clinic in March that will help people through completing the application process. The organization will be taking on new clients to represent, potentially free of charge.