Student Commentary

Temple Law’s Name Change Project

Wanting to help is a common thread winding its way throughout the Temple Law community. In 2017, this notion prompted Steven Johnston (LAW ’18) to meet with Professor Kathy Mandelbaum to discuss ways to help local nonprofits to serve underrepresented clients.  The Name Change Project at Temple Law was born. After being trained about gender identity and the name change process, teams of two students meet with clients to work through the paperwork necessary to complete an identity affirming name change. So far, the Project has been able to accommodate every client who opted to complete the process. Currently the Project is run by 2L Nikki Hatza and 3L Jasper Katz, with Professor Kathy Mandelbaum serving as the advisor.

“I first reached out to Professor Mandelbaum after interning at Mazzoni Center and seeing first-hand the demand for competent LGBTQ legal services. By starting the Temple Law Name Change Project I hoped to efficiently aid transgender Philadelphians in changing their names and at the same time free up Mazzoni Center staff to focus on other pressing work. As a member of the LGBTQ community it is important to me that we look out for one another and support each other. At that time, in late 2016, the phones were ringing off the hook with trans and gender non-conforming individuals who were terrified of what the future would bring, about obtaining proper documentation, and getting their names changed. Starting the name change clinic was my way of giving back, to focus efforts on those who needed help, and channel my own anxious energy into a concrete task. I am so happy Temple stepped up to help and I am thankful to Professor Mandelbaum for taking my concerns to heart. The program has been an unbridled success so far.”

– Steven Johnston LAW ’18

“Although a name change may seem like a simple legal process, for the transgender community it can also be an essential part of cultivating both physical and psycho-social safety.  However, for trans folks seeking name changes, the legal process in many ways remains stacked with unnecessary obstacles, such as legal fees, the publication requirement and, in many jurisdictions, judicial gatekeeping. For a population that faces disproportionately high rates discrimination and  violence, the publication requirement for name changes can amplify that danger. With Temple’s Name Change Project, we aim to provide access to inclusive, affirming legal name change services for Philadelphia’s trans community. The goal is twofold, both to support low-income, trans clients in accessing name changes here in Philadelphia, and to cultivate trans-competent client skills among Temple students. I jumped at the opportunity to participate in the project as a 1L because I have many trans and non-binary friends and loved ones. I volunteered to help lead the project this year because I believe it is a simple yet profoundly meaningful way for Temple Law students to support uniquely vulnerable members of our community.”

– Nikki Hatza LAW ’20

“I got involved with the Name Change Project because, as a transgender person, I know what a profound impact having a legal name that reflects who you are can have. For many transgender people, a name change is a chance to move through the world (more) safely and authentically. While it is a relatively simple legal task, it has an incredible impact, and I am excited for the work I will get to do as part of the Name Change Project.”

– Jasper Katz LAW ’19

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