Law firms are offering free help to transgender people seeking to change their names

Garden State Equality, an LGBTQ+ activist group, has partnered with two law firms to provide free legal assistance to transgender New Jerseyans who are seeking legal name changes.

The partnership with Hunnell Law Group and McCarter & English comes about a year after the state Supreme Court eliminated a requirement for name changes to be published in a newspaper. The ruling made name changes safer and more accessible for transgender people in the Garden State, but financial barriers associated with legal fees still remain.

“Access to accurate identity documents is critical for trans people to fully participate in society,” said Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality. “We’re so grateful to our partners at Hunnell and McCarter & English for their support of New Jersey’s trans community. Removing the financial barrier to updating identity documents ensures that all in our community can benefit from some equality we’ve fought for.”

Transgender New Jerseyans can fill out an online form to get assistance from Garden State Equality and its pro bono legal partners.

Identity documents that can be updated include a driver’s license, state identification card and birth certificate. People who are transgender and are seeking a name change must first get a court order, too.

There are fees associated with getting a name change in the courts. Some cost hundreds of dollars.

“We’re very proud to partner with Garden State Equality to ensure that New Jersey’s trans community has access to obtain accurate identity documents no matter their financial circumstances,” said Stephanie Hunnell, of the Hunnell Law Group in Asbury Park. “Cost should not be a barrier to obtaining legal recognition of one’s gender identity.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality conducted a national survey of 27,715 people in 2015 that found about one-third of respondents had a negative experience when they showed an identity document that didn’t match with their gender presentation. A third said they were verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave or assaulted.

Natalie Watson, a partner at McCarter & English, said the Newark-based law firm has already served as pro bono counsel to transgender people seeking name changes and national organizations that advocate for transgender rights.

“We are delighted to expand the work we have done with Garden State Equality into a broader partnership to help ensure trans individuals have meaningful access to the name and gender marker change process,” Watson said in a statement.

Garden State Equality encourages other law firms to reach out if they are interested in providing pro-bono assistance.

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