Monday, January 21, 2008

Massachusetts' First Transgender Legal Clinic

(Some thoughts on MLK Day. . . ) Last week, the first legal clinic for low-income transgender people in Massachusetts opened its doors. We will be holding monthly legal clinics.

The clinic was organized by the Massachusetts Transgender Legal Advocates, an all volunteer group. We were co-sponsored by a coalition of groups, including Cambridge Cares About AIDS' TransCEND program , AIDS Action, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, and the Committee for Transgender Inclusion for the MA Lesbian and Gay Bar Association. We saw a substantial number of clients. There's a lot of enthusiasm all around for the project.

Okay, so why does this matter, other than being a good piece of news for folks in Massachusetts? It makes visible three things central to transgender activism and effective politics:

1) The movement's work is intersectional. What our clients face is serious and severe and is deeply connected to racial and economic inequalities, as well as transphobia.

2) The movement need not rely solely on non-profits. Other models of activity are available and may be more effective for on-the-ground work. While the leadership of the clinic worked in close conjunction and is supported by non-profit advocacy organizations, they were, ultimately, not bound by their interests or structures. The non-profits that work with the clinic provide essential structures, services, resources and guidance. They are indispensible. However, the clinic itself is run and led exclusively by volunteers. This makes it possible, I think, for the clinic to be run without its eyes constantly looking to where the next grant or funding opportunity is going to come from or with the constant need to getting good PR (the very nature of maintaining client confidentiality prohibits high levels of publicity.)

3) Legal change is an essential but insufficient basis for equality. Not enough prevents transphobic biases leading to the misapplication of the law. This is true whether the problems faced by someone arise at the front door of the Dept. of Motor Vehicles or on in front of a judge.

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