/ Blog Post
By Elizabeth Pinolini, 2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow at Whitman-Walker Health
When I came out as trans, I felt like I slowly lost friends and family, and that I wasn’t accepted simply because of who I am as a person. Losing people close to you is such a common experience for queer communities that when I had the opportunity to submit a Fellowship proposal to Equal Justice Works, I knew that I wanted to do something to make sure that other members of my communities felt supported and appreciated. I chose to focus on reducing barriers to employment for trans and gender non-conforming people, so I could work with and for my communities. Whitman-Walker Health was the perfect place to do this work—the team is like a family, and our clients know they’re a part of that family. Becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow and a leader in my communities has easily been the most incredible way to start my legal career.
One of the ways that I reduce barriers to employment is by coordinating a monthly Name and Gender Change Clinic to pair volunteer attorneys with clients. Participants leave the clinic—which has already served nearly 100 clients in the last six months—with ready-to-file name change petitions. Through a partnership with Georgetown Iron Tech students, we’ve made this process even more widely available by developing a web app to allow users to create petitions easily. We then worked on updating the gender on identification documents—when clients can present documentation that accurately reflects their gender identity, it reduces the chances of being outed to prospective employers and helps avoid discrimination.
As part of my Fellowship, I also work with trans and gender non-conforming immigrants to obtain permanent or long-term immigration status, which often allows someone to obtain work authorization as well. Most of my immigrant clients are asylum-seekers fleeing persecution in countries where being queer is a death sentence, so to increase our capacity, Whitman-Walker works with pro bono partners to serve immigrant communities. Part of our pro bono placement process involves training attorneys on queer competency and asylum.
Trainings and presentations allow community service providers to better understand the lived experiences of trans and gender non-conforming people. It’s crucial to have sensitivity in client interactions when you consider the trauma that many of us endure, including rejection, discrimination, and physical or sexual assault. Not only do I make efforts to educate providers on trauma-informed lawyering, but I also present on gender and sexuality as well.
These facets of identity are much more complicated than they seem, but clients need to feel like we are on their side. When we show a willingness to learn and seek to understand, it does help to put the client at ease. I wanted to work with the members of my communities because I do understand, and have experienced, many issues that are prevalent within the trans and gender non-conforming communities. My life has taught me the importance of compassion, and ensuring that my clients feel safe, accepted, and supported is everything to me.
Elizabeth’s work would not be a reality without the help of an anonymous sponsor. To learn more about Elizabeth’s project, visit here.
I wanted to work with the members of my communities because I do understand, and have experienced, many issues that are prevalent within the trans and gender non-conforming communities.
Elizabeth Pinolini /
Equal Justice Works Fellow