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Representing Transgender Clients: Practical Skills and Cultural Competency

Speaker(s): Amy Whelan, Anand Kalra, Asaf Orr, Daniel Faessler, Danny Kirchoff, Ilona Turner, Janetta L. Johnson, Jennifer Orthwein, Kelly Lou Densmore, Lindsey Rosellini, Sasha Buchert, Shawn T. Meerkamper
Recorded on: Nov. 16, 2016
PLI Program #: 195432

Asaf Orr joined NCLR in February 2012 as a Staff Attorney working on issues related to families and youth. In July 2015, he was named NCLR’s Transgender Youth Project Staff Attorney. As part of that project, Asaf engages in litigation, public policy, and informal advocacy to safeguard the right of transgender and gender-expansive youth to be affirmed and supported for who they are.

Over the past seven years, he has represented transgender youth and their families in a wide range of legal matters including discrimination in schools, child custody disputes, child abuse and neglect, and access to affirming medical and mental health care. For example, Asaf was the lead attorney in Student v. Arcadia Unified School District, which resulted in an historic resolution agreement acknowledging that Title IX protects transgender kids from discrimination in school. That agreement also lead to the federal government approving a nondiscrimination policy that obligated the district to affirm and respect the gender identity of transgender students, including when accessing restrooms, locker rooms, and sex-separated activities or programs.

Asaf has also provided trainings across the country on the rights of transgender youth to parents, service providers, and other professionals. In addition, he has authored a number of resources on issues affecting transgender youth. Most recently, Asaf was a lead author of Schools in Transition: A Guide to Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools, a publication that assists parents, school administrators, and other stakeholders to collaborate and create a school environment that affirms and supports transgender students.

After graduating magna cum laude from Rutgers School of Law in Newark in 2008, Asaf clerked for The Honorable Virginia A. Long on the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Janetta Johnson is an Afro-American trans woman who was raised in Tampa, Florida. She is a healer through her work at the Transgender Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project and facilitator invested in decolonizing spaces. Since 2006, she has been organizing around the intersections of violence she and her trans and gender non-conforming communities of color face. She has been both politicized and mentored by Miss Major who has been deeply influential in her life, and she is honored to have accepted Miss Major’s former position as Executive Director of the TGI Justice Project. The spiritual force that drives her to dismantle the violent systems that black trans people are subjected to and oppressed by is one that awakens her.

As a formerly incarcerated trans person, Janetta has faced adversity and this has informed her community work as well as her deep investment in the liberation of all black trans and gender non-conforming people. Janetta works to restore her community’s spirit from the confines of the prison industrial complex: she has developed a grassroots reentry program with the focus on recidivism and reentry, she is a member of the Bay Area chapter of Black Lives Matter, and is dedicated to ending capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, and building the organizing capacity of trans and gender non-conforming communities of color as a trans warrior. She enjoys working to shift and reframe the value of black trans lives through media, education, and community building.

Janetta uses she/her pronouns.

Jennifer Orthwein received a J.D. from Golden Gate University School of Law and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Palo Alto University. She was a Law Clerk at the National Center for Lesbian Rights during law school and subsequently completed her training and began a career as a psychologist working in the California correctional system. She completed her pre-doctoral internship and post-doctoral fellowship at the California Correctional Medical Facility (CMF) where she was trained to perform assessments for gender related medical care with transgender prisoners. Jennifer transitioned from a career as a forensic psychologist to focus on legal and policy issues related to transgender individuals, particularly those impacted by the criminal justice system.

Recently, Jennifer helped launch and served as pro bono Senior Counsel for the Detention Project at Transgender Law Center. She assisted in the representation of two California prisoners, Michelle Norsworthy and Shiloh Quine. Their complaints against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) were related to access to medically necessary care, name and gender changes, and access to clothing and items consistent with their gender identities.

Currently, Jennifer has a private legal and psychological consulting practice whereby she provides consulting and expert witness services to attorneys. Most of her consulting work focuses on assisting attorneys represent transgender people involved in the criminal justice system and in prison. She also currently serves on the board of Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF), a Bay Area LGBT bar association, and is the Chair of the Community Activism Committee.  

Jennifer has co-authored publications related to practitioner liability in cases of suicide and gender bias in the criminal justice system. She is also a co-principal investigator for the Transgender Research Consortium, which aims to provide research evidence of the current state of transgender physical and mental health and to use these data to provide recommendations to inform broad public policy, education, training, and clinical practice.

Amy Whelan has been a Senior Staff Attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) since 2011 and works on NCLR’s full range of litigation, policy, and public education work. Amy litigates complex civil cases around the country regarding marriage equality, employment discrimination, Title IX, family law, access to healthcare, prisoners’ civil rights, the First Amendment, and other constitutional matters. Before joining NCLR, Amy was an associate at the San Francisco firm of Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld LLP. There, she represented individuals, organizations, and classes of people in litigation before federal and state courts and administrative agencies, principally in the area of civil rights. In 2008 and 2009, Amy was a member of the trial team in Coleman/Plata v. Schwarzenegger, a combined lawsuit challenging the California prison system’s unconstitutional provision of medical and mental healthcare. A unanimous three-judge panel ruled in favor of the prisoners in that case and the United States Supreme Court affirmed that decision on May 23, 2011. Amy received her Bachelor’s Degree from Princeton University and her Juris Doctorate from Northeastern University School of Law.

Anand Kalra is a consultant based in Oakland, California. Coming from a background in library & information science, Anand applies systems analysis to identify breakdowns in the administration of health care in the private and public sectors, and uses this knowledge to create understandable educational materials and trainings for transgender community members and service providers. As Health Programs Manager with Transgender Law Center from 2012-2016, Anand coordinated national coalitions of legal and medical experts in order to translate wins in law and policy into practice at the level of user experience. He has more than ten years’ experience as an activist in trans and LGB communities and holds a master’s degree in Information Science from the University of Michigan.

Danny Kirchoff is currently the Helpline Manager at the Transgender Law Center. He graduated with a BA from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH in 2000.  After college he managed community grant-making programs at Horizons Foundation and the Transgender Equality Project at Equality California. He also served on the LGBT Advisory Committee of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission & board of directors of Transgender Law Center. Danny attended the City University of New York School of Law where he was both a Haywood Burns Fellow in Civil & Human Rights & Point Foundation Scholar. During law school, he interned at Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Economic Justice Project, Transgender Law Center, & Disability Rights Project of NY Lawyers for the Public Interest. After graduating in 2009, Danny was an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Transgender Law Center, focusing on increasing access to social services, homeless shelters & public benefits for transgender Californians.

Ilona Turner is Legal Director of Transgender Law Center, the largest national organization dedicated to advancing the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people. The organization’s litigation and policy advocacy focuses on employment and health care access, and includes work on behalf of transgender students, immigrants, and prisoners. Transgender Law Center’s legal team represented the complainant in Macy v. Holder, which led to the EEOC’s groundbreaking decision in April 2012 confirming that transgender people are protected by Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination. Ilona previously worked as a staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and as the lobbyist for Equality California, where she helped pass legislation that prohibited housing and employment discrimination against transgender people and significantly expanded the rights of domestic partners in California. She has written numerous articles on transgender and LGBT rights issues. She received her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

KellyLou Densmore is a white, cis-gender, queer femme, born and raised in the Bay Area.  KellyLou has been a dedicated organizer for racial and economic justice, prison abolition and queer liberation ever since her teens.  After graduating from Golden Gate Law School in 2013, KellyLou has been using her lawyering skills to support social movements. She fights hard to bring our loved ones home from prisons, jails and detention centers.  KellyLou is part of the National Lawyers Guild, serving as a board member on the local Board of Directors.

Lindsey Rosellini is an attorney with the Health Consumer Center of Bay Area Legal Aid, which provides high quality legal assistance to some of the most vulnerable populations in California. At BayLegal, Lindsey handles cutting-edge legal issues and provides representation to clients with health care access issues. Lindsey also serves on the Board of Directors of Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF), the largest and oldest LGBTQ bar association in the country. Lindsey earned their Juris Doctorate from the University of La Verne (ULV) College of Law and was sworn into the California State Bar in 2012.

Sasha Buchert is a Staff Attorney with Transgender Law Center where she works to remove barriers for transgender and gender nonconforming people in obtaining meaningful employment, competent health care coverage and access to accurate identity documents.  Before joining Transgender Law Center, she was had the privilege of working at Basic Rights Oregon where she served as the Communications Manager and was a member of their legal advisory group.  Sasha also served as board member of the LGBT Bar Association of Oregon and as the chair of the Oregon State Hospital Advisory Board, where she was the first openly transgender person to be appointed to an Oregon state board.  Sasha received her J.D. from Willamette University.

Shawn Thomas Meerkamper is a staff attorney at Transgender Law Center (TLC) and identifies as a genderqueer, anti-racist, social justice lawyer. They re-joined TLC after a stint at the ACLU of Nevada, where they worked on issues ranging from LGBTQ prisoners’ rights to civil asset forfeiture. Previously, they spent two years as a legal fellow at TLC. At TLC, Shawn has been involved in organizing and supervising identity document clinics as well as litigating to reduce barriers to gender-appropriate IDs in cases like In re Petition for Change of Birth Certificate, 22 N.E.3d 707 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), and Doe v. Pence,  No. 1:16-cv-02431 (S.D. Ind. 2016).

Shawn is a graduate of George Washington University and UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies program. They are the author of Contesting Sex Classification: The Need for Genderqueers as a Cognizable Class, which argued for access to identification with non-binary gender markers and was published in the 2012 edition of the Dukeminier Awards Journal. Shawn enjoys dancing and vegetarian cooking and lives in Oakland with their partner and cats Little One and Aurelia.

Daniel joined East Bay Community Law Center’s (EBCLC) Health & Welfare Practice in 2015. Prior to joining EBCLC, Daniel was the Tom Steel Fellow at Transgender Law Center, where he partnered with local transgender-specific community organizations to reduce barriers in accessing legal services. He also briefly practiced at Weiss Law, a small plaintiff-side firm that exclusively brings employment discrimination claims based on gender identity and gender expression. During law school, Daniel interned at Bay Area Legal Aid, South Brooklyn Legal Services, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. He is currently a board member of Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom. Daniel is also fluent in Spanish.