County Strikes Deal to Help Transgender People Pay For Name Changes

With the Trump administration imminent, trans people are scrambling to get their papers in order.

Hundreds of transgender King Countians are scrambling to change their legal names and gender markers in case the Trump administration makes doing so harder after taking power on January 20. The changes cost hundreds of dollars in legal fees—$171 just for the name change—so the Gender Justice League has gathered tens of thousands of dollars to subsidize people who can’t afford that.

The problem: King County Courts only take cash. Because of its tax status, GJL is prohibited from handing out cash.

“Gender Justice League has no means to pay clients directly for name changes without jeopardizing our tax exempt status or risk diversion of funds from their intended purpose,” wrote GJL director Danni Askini in an email sent to local officials yesterday asking for their help. “We understand that the court has legitimate concerns about accepting private checks; in the past people changing their names have bounced checks at great expense to the courts. However, a business check from a well established non-profit is different and low risk.”

Askini says that more than 200 people have come to recent legal clinics on how to change one’s legal name and gender marker. “After informing the more than 200 clients of the delay,” she wrote, “their responses have been heart breaking—ranging from anxiety and panic to threats of self harm.” These aren’t empty threats. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, trans Americans are nine times more likely to have attempted suicide than Americans in general.

“The clock is ticking,” Askini wrote.

The solution: GJL gives its money to King County, which puts it in a special fund. GJL then hands out vouchers to its clients. The clients give the vouchers in lieu of cash when paying the court for name and gender marker changes, and the cost of the associated legal fees is deducted from the special fund.

This arrangement is what King County Councilmember Joe McDermott’s office has just worked out with GJL and KC Courts. McDermott, significantly, is one of two openly LGBT member of the council.

“We were very pleased that the courts and county worked with us to find a solution to this unique hurdle,” he said in an emailed statement. “I am elected to solve problems, and solving these challenges for the trans community couldn’t be more important right now in the face of the explicit intolerance that is about to take control of the Federal Government. King County should be a safe place for all residents, and I’ll continue to fight to make sure that is case.”

According to McDermott’s office, the logistics of the fund/voucher arrangement are still being worked out, but they hope to have people using the vouchers to pay for name and gender marker changes by Wednesday or Thursday of the coming week. His office says there will be a seperate area on that day to accomodate the hundreds of clients they anticipate showing up.

Askini says GJL plans to deliver a check to pay into the special fund on Tuesday. She says she’s impressed with the speed of with which McDermott’s office tackled this—she only got in touch with them a week and a half ago—and praised staffers Lan Nguyen and Casey Bloom in particular.

“There are a lot of people waiting to hear from us that we’ve been able to work through this,” she says, some of whom have been waiting years to correct their legal info. “It’s exciting that we have been able to cut through the red tape.”

GJL and partner groups will hold a third legal clinic this Sunday at the Cloud Room on Capitol Hill from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

An earlier version of this post inaccurately said that Joe McDermott is the only openly LGBT member of King County Council.

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