Derek Illar, a Member and Inclusion Ambassador of Eckert Seamans, notes that a person’s name is essential for all aspects of daily life, explaining “individuals may experience exclusion from employment, housing, education, and society as a whole, may encounter violence, or may not be able to live their lives as authentically and fully as they should if their name does not match their lived experience.”
Illar also laments that the name change process is often too costly and confusing for people to handle without a legal professional. Access to pro bono legal programs can also be challenging in some geographic regions. Illar emphasized that “having access to the courts and legal services should not depend on a person’s zip code.”
Low-income trans, nonbinary, and/or gender-nonconforming individuals in Allegheny County are eligible for free legal help with name changes through the Name Change Project, according to a spokesperson for the collaboration.
For almost two years, Eckert Seamans has been providing pro bono legal services to transgender, gender nonbinary, and gender non-conforming individuals through the national Name Change Project, helping dozens of individuals in multiple states across the country to change their names, according to a press release.
Eckert Seamans states that they look forward to continuing and expanding this “vitally important work” through this new collaboration.
Central Outreach and Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation will be responsible for conducting intake of new pro bono clients and referring them to Eckert Seamans. Hugh Lane will also offer operational, logistical, and financial assistance.
“Expanding access to gender-affirming resources is much needed,” says Sarah Rosso, Executive Director of Hugh Lane, “We’re excited to be able to partner with Eckert Seamans to offer free name change services to our transgender, non-binary and gender expansive siblings throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. My hope is that in addition to working with individuals to meet their critical needs, we'll also be able to push toward systemic change across the region with this work. All LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians should be able to access resources and build community regardless of what county they reside in.”
Some eligibility criteria, such as income restrictions, apply. Illar says incarcerated individuals are eligible, “provided that they have not been convicted of certain crimes that render them ineligible; e.g., murder.”
"Someone's gender identity is an extremely personal journey. Many people struggle with the decision to come about their gender identity in light of a society that has been slow to recognize transgender people as deserving of equal rights and respect," said Rep. Ben Sanchez (D-Montgomery County) in a statement about the proposal. "Unfortunately, bureaucratic roadblocks such as changing information on one's birth certificate make this process even more complicated as transgender people face discrimination and multiple barriers when changing their sex on government documents."