SOGI Name Change Clinics Provide Support, Guidance for Transgender North Carolinians

In March 2023, the NCBA Pro Bono Committee approved the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee’s (SOGI) pro bono project proposal to run LGBTQ+ Legal Clinics, and more specifically, Name Change Clinics. Since that time, SOGI has facilitated five Name Change Clinics across the state: in Durham, Greensboro, Wilmington, and Winston-Salem. Name Change Clinics support transgender North Carolinians in drafting the required documents and filings for seeking a legal name change to affirm their gender. These clinics also provide guidance for changing their name and correcting their gender marker on important documents like birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and passports.

“A person’s name is so important to their identity,” explains Katie Jenifer, Pro Bono Co-Chair for SOGI. She adds, “to have your identity documents reflect your name accurately is not only necessary but can be an extremely important safety measure. Identity documents are a vital part of public life in the U.S. We use our photo ID for everything from accessing banking services to picking up prescriptions, to now voting. We use birth certificates to register our children for school, to get a passport, to get a Real ID, and more. Having an ID that accurately reflects a person’s name is an important step in many people’s transition process and has even more serious impacts when it comes to personal safety issues like being outed by an incorrect ID.“

So far, the response from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. One client shared, “I have wanted to get this done for a long time, but I didn’t know how to get started. This clinic gave me everything I needed.” While the clinics help provide resources on getting started, Jenifer notes, “One area that our community has highlighted that we have not addressed yet is the cost of a name change correction in North Carolina. People may have access to the information but not have access to the funds needed to complete the process – from fees to get a certified copy of your birth certificate, to fees for fingerprints, to fees for background checks, to filing fees, and more. The costs quickly add up!” Acutely aware of this barrier, SOGI hopes to identify ways to support the LGBTQ+ community by providing grants or funding to individuals in need in the future.

Along with providing a valuable service to the LGBTQ+ community, the SOGI Name Change Clinics are a great way to engage law students in pro bono work. Law students often serve as volunteers through this clinic. Each clinic includes training that educates volunteers about gender identity while also walking the volunteer through the steps to obtain an adult name change in North Carolina and sharing helpful client counseling tips. Through the clinic, law students gain first-hand experience working with a client. The clinic also allows volunteers, law students and attorneys, to become adept at issues specific to the LGBTQ+ community—and while they may walk in as an ally, they walk out as an advocate.

SOGI will continue to offer Name Change Clinics throughout the year, with the next clinic scheduled for Saturday, November 18, in Greensboro. For more information about the program including upcoming opportunities, visit the LGBTQ+ Legal Clinics project website.

Collins Saint practices with Brooks Pierce in Greensboro. They are the founding chair of the NCBA Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee and currently serve as chair-elect of the NCBA Young Lawyers Division.

Alex Rogers serves as Director of Programs for the North Carolina Bar Foundation, and previously served as Pro Bono Clinics Attorney for the NCBF and as Assistant Director of CLE for the NCBA.