Arielle provides holistic advocacy for transgender, gender-nonconforming, intersex (TGNCI) and/or HIV+ immigrant New Yorkers to gain immigration status and access to health care—including gender-affirming procedures—through direct immigration legal services, community partnerships, and legislative advocacy.
There are an estimated 15,000 to 50,000 transgender undocumented individuals in the U.S. Undocumented TGNCI individuals, doubly marginalized due to citizenship status and gender identity, face particular vulnerabilities: one in four transgender individuals report experiencing discrimination in health care, and one in three report verbal harassment or refusal of treatment. Disparities in care are compounded when an individual is undocumented, and as a result, uninsured. Further, TGNCI undocumented individuals are often criminalized and detained due to police profiling, targeting and harassment. If detained, TGNCI individuals are subject to conditions that lead to rapid deterioration in their physical and mental health, such as solitary confinement, inconsistent administration of HIV medication, and denial of hormones.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
During the first year of the Fellowship, Arielle has:
- Launched the UndocuCare TGNCI+ Project and provided immigration legal representation to 25 individuals who identify as transgender and/or are living with HIV, including work permits granted for 10 clients with their correct gender marker
- Solidified a community partnership with the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP) and presented to members on access to health care and other public benefits for immigrant New Yorkers
- Advocated on behalf of asylum seekers to have harmful ankle monitors removed
- Established a mutual referral partnership with the LGBT Community Center of Manhattan, ensuring that TGNCI clients obtain access to gender-affirming health insurance navigation
- Hosted a legal name change clinic and training with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) for fellowship sponsors AIG and S&C, who took on clients’ legal name change cases pro bono
In the next six months, Arielle plans to:
- Ensure continued access to health care and gender-affirming procedures for clients and continue representing TGNCI clients and/or clients living with HIV in their immigration proceedings
- Work with clients to obtain identity documents with their correct legal name and gender
- Deepen expertise for T-visa and U-visa cases for survivors of trafficking and other crimes and increase outreach to NYC-based and sex-worker led organizations already doing this work
While working at the border and in immigrant detention centers outside of New York City, I saw firsthand how manageable illnesses can turn fatal in immigrant detention—especially for LGBTQ and HIV+ folks.
Arielle Wisbaum /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Shannon is one of the nation’s leading advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. He began his law career as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in 1993 and has litigated several landmark cases involving the civil rights of same-sex couples and families.
In 1993, Shannon founded the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Youth Project, the first legal-advocacy group to address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ+) youth. He now supervises the Safe Homes Project at NCLR, which helps LGBTQ+ youth who face discrimination and problems in foster care, group homes, or the juvenile-justice system.
Shannon is the legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, where he oversees litigation, legislation, and policy advocacy, with special expertise in family law, youth law, education law, immigration & asylum law, employment discrimination, and HIV criminalization.
I recruit law students to work on projects that aid low-income populations. I encourage private firms to do more pro bono work. I provide free legal services for elders and assist with legal services for previously incarcerated individuals who have been discriminated against as they seek to return to society. I help people get heat, food and funds on a regular basis.
I am working in the Ithaca office of Legal Assistance of Western New York (LAWNY), an LSC-funded civil legal services provider. Half of my time is spent assisting low-income clients in uncontested divorce matters and in prisoner reentry issues. The other half of my time consists of co-administering the Law Students in Action Project (LSAP), where we recruit law students to volunteer their time at local legal service offices, both during the academic term and during the summer months.
Ashe helped low-income aging lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) people in New York City who need access to public benefits and comprehensive health care with a three-pronged approach of outreach and education, policy advocacy, and direct legal services.
Poverty, homelessness, and discrimination—real and perceived—can seem like insurmountable barriers for older LGBTQ people seeking public benefits and health care. LGBTQ elders have systematically underutilized the important public benefits and health care services that they may need as they age. Approximately 65,000 LGBTQ elders reside in the New York metropolitan area. With the expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act and the corresponding bans on LGBTQ discrimination in health care, there is an increased need for information and guidance to help LGBTQ elders, as well as legal and social service providers, navigate the system.
During their Fellowship, Ashe:
- Wrote official legislative comments to both the New York State Department of Health and the New York City Council, where Ashe testified in person, to advocate for the removal of legal discriminatory barriers to healthcare access for low-income trans and gender non-conforming communities
- As a result of Ashe’s advocacy: (1) New York City amended its birth certificate policy to ensure that trans people would not have to undergo surgery in order to change their birth certificate gender marker; and (2) New York State Department of Health removed a 15 year old categorical exclusion on trans related healthcare
- Started the monthly Trans Legal Clinic at the LGBT Community Center in New York City, which provides free legal services to low-income trans and gender non-conforming New Yorkers seeking legal assistance with health care related matters
- Submitted official recommendations to the New York State Office for the Aging on ways that the state can increase LGBTQ aging community utilization of legal services across the state
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Ashe has joined the Center for American Progress as a Policy Analyst where they are focusing on the effects of criminal, racial, and economic justice issues on LGBTQ communities.
The Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic of Cornell Law School serves low-income immigrant workers, primarily in Central and Western New York. In line with the needs of these communities, I assist with the immigration matters of immigrant youths, particularly those who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents.
Access to justice for area farmworker communities, especially for children, remains extremely problematic. In-absentia deportation orders are common; unaccompanied children and detainees with valid claims appear routinely without legal representation. This project aims to serve this vulnerable and marginalized population.
Being from an immigrant family—I come to this project knowing the unique challenges of advocating for vulnerable and marginalized peoples.
Jordan Manalastas /
Equal Justice Works Fellow