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Michael Silverman, Executive Director, TLDEF

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Michael has been a member of  Transgender Legal Defense and Education fund (TLDEF) Board of Directors, as well as its Executive Director, since it was founded.in 2005. He has worked as an attorney in the LGBT civil rights movement since 1994.  In addition to his work at TLDEF, Michael is Adjunct Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law, where he teaches courses on gender, sexuality and the law.

Michael Silverman is a graduate of Vassar College and The University of Michigan Law School.
TLDEF combats discrimination against transgender people wherever it arises. Transgenders who face discrimination because of gender identity or expression contact TLDEF for legal action. 



0:06 Toni Newman


0:08 Michael Silverman


0:09 Toni Newman

Hi! Is this Michael Silverman?

0:11 Michael Silverman

It is.

0:13 Toni Newman

Good morning Michael. This is Toni Newman in Los Angeles.

0:17 Michael Silverman

Hi Toni. How are you?

0:20 Toni Newman

I am glad you can make it. (Crosstalk) hoping you can make it at 11:00 a.m. my time, 2:00 p.m. your time.

0:31 Michael Silverman

My pleasure.

0:32 Toni Newman

Thank you Michael for fitting in your schedule. So, we (crosstalk) I want to thank FPI Productions and BM Corporation for sponsoring and approving the show with Michael and paying for the promotions and the PR people to promote it after we're done. Everyone, we have Michael Silverman. He is the founder and Executive Director for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund based in New York City. He is also an attorney and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law. So Michael can you give us a little background of who Michael Silverman is before we get started.

1:14 Michael Silverman

Sure and Toni thank you so much for having me on, I have been looking forward to this. I am excited to be here with you. I have been an advocate for LGBT Rights for oh gosh, you know, most of my adult life and in fact, you know when I wrote my law school essay, it's probably now back in the winter of 1992 and '93. I actually wrote that when I grow up and graduate law school, I want to be an advocate for LGBT Rights and sure we have hold it and it will be awful and earn that thing and all that kind of stuff that embarrassed us later in life but, the part of it I like is that I turned out to do exactly what I said, I always wanted to do and -- and so I've been writing Transgender Legal Defense now for almost 10 years right we are having our ninth anniversary coming up and it just really couldn't be anymore exciting or fulfilling.

2:17 Toni Newman

So, Michael now, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, nine years in business. What is your core purpose or mission as a nonprofit group? What do you guys really trying to do?

2:31 Michael Silverman

We are trying to end discrimination against transgender people and to achieve a quality for the transgender community plain and simple. The primary ways we do that are that will be legal systems. We are lawyers first and foremost and so, we bring test cases which are cases that we think have the potential to affect not just the individual involved but the wider transgender community if we receive a favorable ruling. A second way that we work the legal system is providing certain direct legal services to people. For a lot of transgender people part of the coming out process involves interactions with the legal system for the things like changing names, changing gender markers and very early on, we realized we were just flooded with request for help in that regard and so we started coming up, we called the Name Change Project. It started at New York City and we asked some of the law firms who worked with, will they help us. We did not know what shape it would take but today we helped over a thousand people in New York City alone with the help of over 25 law firms and corporate legal departments changed their names, update their gender markers so that they can move forward with their lives as who they truly are. We have expanded in the past year so the Name Change Project does not just serve people in New York City, it serves people in many other parts of New York State now and in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Some of that were just getting rolling on but it's a very exciting time for us.

4:05 Toni Newman

Very good. Now, let me ask you something. Where do you see transgender rise in 2013 versus nine years ago in 2005? What is your overview of transgender equality now?

4:19 Michael Silverman

You know, when we started Transgender Legal Defense and I started to talk to people about the organization and ask them for help and support I got so many blanks stares, people looked at me as if I had said like "oh, I have started, you know, the Martian, Legal Defense and Education Fund" there was almost no reasonable discussion that I could have with people outside the transgender community at least that is remarkably different nine years later, we have way way way more work to go. Now I find that when its time to have a discussion about transgender rights about the unique challenges that transgender people face in various aspects of society, at least there is an openness to engage in the discussion that was missing before, so we have long, long way to go but we still able to progress over the past decade.

5:14 Toni Newman

I totally agree. Now what test cases or legal cases are you working on now to push forward transgender equality? If there is anything specific that your organization is testing, any type of test case you have currently.

5:30 Michael Silverman

Sure. Absolutely, you know, we have cases around the country. I'll talk about one that we are hopefully in the midst of resolving and that involved a test under Colorado Law. The scope of Colorado's anti discrimination provisions related to transgender people in particular it involved the six-year-old transgender girl in the public system in Colorado whose school had told her that she was not allowed to use the girls' bathroom because she has been assigned male at birth. She had already been going to school as a girl for a year. She had been using the girls' bathrooms in kindergarten, all of her teachers, all of her friends, new her as a girl, she dressed as a girl and she was now the only girl at school who is told you have to use the boys' bathroom, the nurses' bathroom or the teachers' bathroom. Well, you know, she is not a boy, she was not sick and she is not an adult, so we did not see why she should be using any of those bathrooms and we wrote to the school and said "you need to do the right thing, you know, transgender students face unique challenges and it is one of those challenges and in order for her to successfully integrate in school and achieve an equal education and opportunity, we need to just let her use the bathroom that she meant to use. They refuse to do that and the complaint in Colorado and the Colorado Civil Right Division just back in June, I believe, __06:57__ years, just a couple of months ago, issued what probably the strongest ruling ever in favor of transgender people and their right to use the bathroom that matches who they are and they said, the school had discriminated against this little girl whose name is Coy Mathis, they had violated her right and created a hostile and offensive school environment for her and that throughout Colorado. School had to treat transgender student equally and that was a huge, huge victory.

7:28 Michael Silverman

Now, I say we're in the midst of victory because we don't know if the school is going to appeal or how long this case can go on. They are many, many levels of appeal, but we're hopeful that with the very strongly worded opinion that we received so far, the school will just say "okay we get it, we made a mistake, we understand Colorado Law now and we will not gonna pursue this further".

7:53 Toni Newman

Very good, very good. That is a great outcome. My next question Michael is why do you think minority transgenders based on most study to what they participated in, suffer discrimination at a double rate and double rate of unemployment than most of the transgenders. What do you think the minority transgender community is still highly unemployed, highly uneducated and still facing double discrimination that most in that key group? Why do you think that is?

8:30 Michael Silverman

I think we are witnessing the intersection of race discrimination for example and transgender discrimination and in a way they don't just double up on each other, they tend to have an exponential impacts, so people who are already experiencing race discrimination in employment or in house or public accommodation and now gets multiplied by facing that discrimination on the basis of being transgender. We see for example, you know, it's a funny thing. We had people asked us but why do you have the Name Change Project, I think its like pretty easy for our people to go to court and get their name changed and so on and so forth. Honestly in my experience, those questions almost, always come from fairly middle class white transgender people for whom perhaps that task of going to court and getting ones name changed isn't all that difficult. What we see in the project we run is that 80% of our project participants are on public assistance, so we have an overwhelmingly poor population that needs our help with things like name and gender marker changing and another 80%, it's not an exact overlap but there is a lot of overlap, another 80% are people of color. There is no surprise for anyone who studies legal system there. Access to justice is a heavily racially stratified. So each and separate from question of whether someone is transgender or not if you just look at the non-transgender community, white versus non-white, you will see a very, very big disparity in access to justice and who is able to go to the court system to access that justice.

10:25 Toni Newman


10:26 Michael Silverman

Much higher percentages for white people than non-white people, so when you add this in with the transgender question it would be a surprise to see things differently simply based on the stats, right, so we are seeing the point where race and gender identity intersect and the outcome is not good at this point.

10:47 Toni Newman

Yes. I agree -- I agree with that Michael. Now, Michael if someone wanted to donate, volunteer, how can they get involve with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund which is a nonprofit organization based in New York? Tell us how if someone wanted to get involve to help push forward transgender equality. How can they do so with your group?

11:11 Michael Silverman

Sure, sure, sure. A couple of ways. Anyone who wants to donate, believe me, we always need the financial support, www.transgenderlegal.org there are links on the web page to do that and we welcome contributions in all sizes. For anyone who don't have web access or prefers to do things differently they can mail us the check, the address is also on our web page. Volunteers are so important to what we do and when I talked about the Name Change Project for example we work with about 25 law firms and a couple of corporate legal departments, together they have donated millions of dollars in free legal services to our clients. So for any lawyers who are listening it doesn't matter where you're located our Name Change Project as I was mentioning has expanded outside of New York at this point. If people are interested they should send an email info@transgenderlegal.org, we respond to everything and we will find a way to include anyone who is interested in volunteering in our work.

12:15 Toni Newman

Well Michael, I'm a law school student, I love what you do because you use the law, to fight equality and fight against discrimination and that is the only way in a fair society that we can get equality is by the law. So we need lawyers t do that and you do that as well as with your staff attorney Nora Louis which I recommended as well, Harvard Lawyer, which is impressive.

12:42 Michael Silverman

It is.

12:43 Toni Newman

(Crosstalk), so, you know, that type of thing that is where my passion lies, so you are doing what I want to do and for me this is very important because it takes the law to change and fight discrimination and harassment and all of that. So for that I want to thank you and Nora and your group for doing that because without the law we can't have equality.

13:04 Michael Silverman

Well thank you for saying that and I'm so glad to hear that you are in law school, you know, we need more transgender people in the legal profession. It is important to get that law degree and get out there and start practicing.

13:19 Toni Newman

Sure Michael. I want to thank you for your time, your valuable time and taking the time to talk to about transgender equality and the law and we wish you a happy weekend. God bless you and your group and thank you so very, very much.

13:34 Michael Silverman

My pleasure Toni thank you for having me on the show, I really appreciate it.

13:39 Toni Newman

Have a great day Michael.

13:41 Michael Silverman

Thank you too bye, bye now.