Beasley program gives legal assistance for name changes

Students and faculty members will now be able to request free legal assistance from the project.

Kathy Mandelbaum, associate professor of law, talks about the Name Change Project in Beasley School of Law library on Jan. 24. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Each time Gideon Morgan takes a test at Disability Resources and Services, he sees a name different from the one on his state ID. But when he logs into TUPortal, he sees the same name as on his state ID. 

It’s because as a freshman neuroscience student working minimum wage and paying for tuition, Morgan can’t afford the estimated $450 it costs to legally change his name to match the gender identity he identifies with. 

For many trans people, lack of financial and family support, and a lengthy bureaucratic process can make it difficult to afford the hundreds of dollars the name change process requires.

The Beasley School of Law’s Name Change Project provides free legal assistance to people who are transgender in navigating the legal process of successfully changing their names to reflect their gender identity. 

This semester, the project began accepting trans Temple students and faculty members as eligible clients. Previously, it only accepted community residents.

A study conducted by the University of Texas in 2018 found trans youth who were allowed to use their chosen names at home, work, school and with friends experienced 71 percent fewer symptoms of severe depression. It also found a 34 percent decrease in suicidal thoughts and a 65 percent decrease in suicidal attempts. 

Morgan said the Name Change Project would meet the common need-based challenges trans people face.

“I’m technically a dependent of my parents still, and they make almost enough money that they could reasonably pay for this,” he said. “But because my parents aren’t affirming, the cost falls on me.” 

Kathy Mandelbaum urges that students and faculty who can afford to pay for a lawyer do so, making room for students and faculty who truly require the assistance.

“A lot of our students don’t have financial resources to do the things to make changes in the places they care about,” said Mandelbaum, associate professor of law and the project’s advising attorney. 

The project is run entirely by Temple law students. These students, under the supervision of Mandelbaum, provide legal advice and assist in the court petition process with each client.

The project began in 2017 when Steven Johnston, a 2018 Temple Law alumnus, interned at the law clinic at the Mazzoni Center, an LGBT wellness center in Washington Square West that provides name change services, among others. Johnston noticed that name changes, despite not directly requiring legal counsel, were taking up too much of the clinic’s time and resources. 

The Name Change Project is seeking more clients and continually receives some from the Mazzoni Center, Mandelbaum said. 

The procedure for name changes in Pennsylvania requires not only that fingerprints be taken, but also that notice of name change be published in two local newspapers, according to Chapter 7 in Title 54.

“Why do I have to publish my name somewhere when no one’s gonna read it?” Morgan said.

While these laws are intended to keep felons and debtors from escaping punishment, it complicates a legal procedure necessary for the well-being of trans people, said Kat Contreras, a second-year law student, and student co-coordinator of the project. Contreras, alongside Sarah Connor, another second-year law student, started running the project last month.

Having one’s name match their gender expression is crucial in protecting trans people from discriminatory procedures from employers, and not just from the police, Contreras said.

“It’s the name that a nurse will call out and a doctor’s office when they’re calling you back,” Contreras added. “It’s what a cop sees when they pull you over for accidentally turning right on red, just normal everyday things.”

The project could be beneficial for trans persons because individuals’ financial need isn’t always what it seems, Morgan said.

“I could personally and I know other people can definitely benefit from this,” he added. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Name Change Project assists clients in legally changing their name to reflect their gender expression. It assists clients to change their name to reflect their gender identity. The previous version also called the Name Change Project a law clinic, which it is not.

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