By Anya Morgan
This summer, I was a legal intern at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, where I worked primarily with the Prisoner Justice Project, and secondarily with the Survival and Self-Determination Project.
Over the course of my internship, I was given the opportunity to work on a variety of cases and projects. While working with the Prisoner Justice Project, I responded to mail from incarcerated trans people nationwide with legal and pen pal resources, wrote medical advocacy letters to get incarcerated clients access to hormones, worked with incarcerated clients to get their names changed, and visited clients in the Transgender Housing Unit at the Manhattan Detention Complex and at a prison upstate. It was amazing to get so much experience working with incarcerated clients, as many legal aid organizations do not represent people in prison. Not only did I get a crash course in trans prison advocacy, but I also got to form connections with amazing folks I never would have been able to meet otherwise. One of the most rewarding experiences I had working with PJP was not a legal one—I was able to teach a short yoga class to our clients in the Transgender Housing Unit when we went for our legal visit. It was experiences like this that perfectly encapsulated my summer at SRLP—I was able to take part in providing holistic services that prioritized the needs of the client, both legal and extra-legal.
Also as part of my work with PJP, I co-wrote a blog post about the effects of U.S. v Texas on transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex people, and wrote another post on police relations with LGBT people. In addition, I helped community and staff members prepare for a public hearing in front of the Board of Correction, and read the testimony of several of our incarcerated clients at the hearing. Finally, I helped re-write a name change guide for incarcerated trans people—the original version was written for attorneys, and I modified it to function as a DIY guide for incarcerated people to do their name changes pro se.
While working with the Survival and Self-Determination Project, I performed intake of new clients every week, and became the primary contact for several clients with a variety of legal needs. In New York, unlike in Texas, trans people do not have to get a court order to change their gender marker on their identity documents. The name change, however, is still done by court order. I helped prepare several name changes for clients, and accompanied a few to their hearings. I also worked with clients to change their gender markers with each agency that controls identity documents. I worked on one immigration case, wherein the client wanted to naturalize, but did not yet have the required matching identity documents to begin the naturalization process. I also assisted clients with shelter and public housing advocacy, and met with one client to discuss the employment discrimination claim that she had filed with the EEOC.
I had an amazing time working at SRLP, and I hope to do very similar work after I graduate! I’m so grateful that the Haywood Burns Fellowship allowed me to do this important work.