Transgender advocate speaks about legal policies to combat discrimination

Rebecca Savransky, Assistant Campus Editor

A transgender advocate spoke at Northwestern Tuesday night about discrimination against transgender individuals and the ongoing efforts to pass legislation targeting the problems they face.

Owen Daniel-McCarter, a collective member at the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois, an organization committed to transgender rights, talked to more than 40 individuals in Kresge Hall. During the event, sponsored by the Gender and Sexuality Undergraduate Advisory Board, McCarter presented his ideas about transgender rights and the ways he is using his legal education to promote transgender equality and justice.

“Transformative justice is really about using the strength of our communities to think about how we can stop violence in our spaces,” Daniel-McCarter said.

Daniel-McCarter also works as the legal director and staff attorney at the TransLife Center, which provides housing and services to transgender individuals in need. Through his involvement in this program and several other organizations, he said he has seen how transgender individuals face discrimination on several levels including housing, employment, education and medical care.

He said he is focusing specifically on the legal rights of transgender prisoners and is currently pursuing legislation to make the process of changing one’s name more attainable for convicted felons. Currently, a convicted felon must wait 10 years after completing their sentence to legally change their name.

“Trans people, we love to change our names,” Daniel-McCarter said. “We think this felony bar is absolutely wrong. We think it’s unconstitutional, actually.”

Daniel-McCarter said he is hoping to impact the legality of name-changes on a larger scale to make the process easier. He said several states have already updated their name-change policies.

A question-and-answer period was held at the end of the event. Students and faculty asked how the name changing process differs in other states and the reasons for a lack of research on transgender males as opposed to transgender females.

Gender and sexuality studies lecturer Amy Partridge, one of the event organizers, said she and the Gender and Sexuality Undergraduate Advisory Board decided to bring Daniel-McCarter to campus because of classes being taught this quarter on related topics and an interest in learning more about the legal aspects of transgender individuals.

“Having someone come in and talk about the kind of activism that’s going on right now in Chicago on trans issues and trans laws in particular seemed like an obvious choice,” Partridge said. “I was really interested in hearing about the new legal strategies and legal battles that are coming up and what kind of legal language is being used and legal strategies are being used.”

Weinberg senior Ryan Lim said he attended the event because it related to his thesis topic and he was curious about the TransLife Center.

“I was interested to see how the TransLife Center was addressing different aspects of homelessness, like housing, legality, medical, employment mental health,” he said. “I just think that it’s a very transformative way of thinking about addressing homelessness and also one that is very effective.”

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