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Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) is a Boston based non-profit legal organization that works throughout the six New England states on cases of discrimination involving LGBTQ clients and those with HIV/AIDS. The heart of GLAD’s work is impact litigation—bringing cases of first impression (that is, cases typically involving facts not heard by a court before) in which a favorable impact will benefit the entire community in addition to the parties before the court.
In June 2008, GLAD launched the Transgender Rights Project. The move to create a separate transgender-focused project reflects a deep commitment on the part of the organization to broaden and protect the rights of transgender people. Although GLAD has worked on behalf of transgender people throughout its thirty-five-year history, the creation of a separate project has enabled the organization to bring that work to a new and higher level.
Throughout its history, GLAD has brought lawsuits that successfully challenged transgender bias: a middle school’s mistreatment of a transgender student, a prison system’s denial of essential health care for a transgender inmate, a government agency’s denial of insurance coverage for a transgender person’s medically necessary care, the federal government’s unequal treatment of a transgender taxpayer, among others. Throughout the same period of time, GLAD has received calls from people throughout New England, and beyond, about serious challenges they faced across a range of family law contexts. In discussion with the other GLAD attorneys, I realized that one of the challenges in bringing family law impact cases on behalf of transgender clients is the dearth of knowledge among family law attorneys—even those deeply committed to advocating on behalf of their transgender clients—about how to best and most effectively represent them. As a result, many transgender clients have been negotiating away family law protections out of fear, often well-founded, that they will fare worse in the courts than if they strive to reach some negotiated agreement with someone seeking to restrict their familial rights.
In addition, many transgender clients who have taken the risk of going to court have found themselves in front of tribunals influenced by the widespread community and social bias against transgender people generally. One example of the bias transgender people and their families face in the legal system comes from a corporate lawyer who told me about a case she had worked on nearly thirty years ago, when she was doing family law work. She had represented a transgender woman who, prior to her gender transition, had been in an otherwise lawful different sex marriage and was being divorced by her wife of many years. The couple had a child with whom the attorney’s client had a close, loving relationship. However, the wife said the transgender client would never see the child again and quickly turned to poisoning the relationship between the parent and child. The transgender client chose not to challenge the wife’s legal custodial status but asked that she be allowed to retain her parental status and maintain an obligation of child support. The transgender parent wanted to be sure that her child always knew that she had never stopped financially supporting her, no matter how effectively the other parent worked to destroy their relationship, and even though she could not enjoy visitation with the child with whom she had been so close.
Thirty years later GLAD’s legal information line continues to receive calls from people whose family relationships suffer because of legal bias and discrimination. Many parents who undergo divorce and relationship dissolution at or around the time of their gender transition have diminished or no relationships with their kids. In addition, I have witnessed a disturbing recent trend of courts reversing custody arrangements because a parent has supported a child’s cross-gender identification. In such cases, courts have ignored the predominant perspective offered by medical and mental health professionals, preferring instead to credit testimony offered by bigoted, biased, and uncredentialed professionals. These stories are heartbreaking and remind us how essential it is to reverse the course of negative legal precedent, rampant bias, and discrimination against transgender people that infuses our legal system.
Reversing bad precedent, establishing favorable outcomes, and changing public attitudes regarding transgender people is especially critical in the area of family law because it presses so deeply on the most intimate of human relationships. Those are the goals of this book. I am proud of the Transgender Rights Project’s many accomplishments that have brought about structural and systemic changes benefiting transgender people. Reversing precedent and changing attitudes requires knowledge, information, and resources. This book is the effort of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project to provide the essential tools for building strong law to protect all families, including those formed by transgender people.
— Jennifer L. Levi Co-editor and Director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project