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Supporting a Gender and Name Change Clinic to Advance LGBTQ+ Rights

When the University of San Diego School of Law’s Name and Gender-Marker Change Clinic first started about five years ago, “Bill,” a longtime San Diego advocate for transgender and LGBTQ+ issues, was among the early group of people who asked for help with legally changing their gender. For decades, Bill had worked to promote the rights of transgender individuals, raised awareness of issues affecting the community, and led discussion groups to help others find acceptance and support. Since he was by then in his late sixties, he had lived and thrived as his true gender for many years, but he viewed officially changing the gender he had been assigned at birth as a significant and meaningful milestone.

“Even though he and many others who first came to the clinic had been living their authentic lives for, in some cases, decades, to really be wholly affirmed in that way was surprisingly powerful to me,” said Robert Gleason, a co-founder of the clinic.

Marshaling Resources to Address a Long-Standing Problem

When it launched in February 2018, the clinic helped a number of older adults whose lives had been deeply affected by the lack of identity documents that didn’t match their gender, including many who were informally or marginally employed. Since then, with the help of many local attorneys, including Mintz’s Valerie Phan — who recently recruited colleagues Lorena Niebla and Pooja Pujara — the student-run clinic has served about 1,100 clients, which the clinic refers to as participants. Along with adults who identify as transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming, the USD School of Law Name and Gender-Marker Change Clinic assists minors applying with and without the support of both parents. Through its virtual model instituted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinic is also able to assist California residents who live outside of the San Diego area.

Legal Allies Expedite a Cumbersome Process

In advance of monthly clinics held virtually throughout the academic year, participants fill out intake forms, which law student volunteers use to complete required court forms. These include a petition, an information sheet about the petitioner, an order to show cause, and an order recognizing the gender or gender and name change — with additional, and in some cases, different forms for minors and individuals who need to change a marriage certificate. Then, in private Zoom meetings during the clinic, a law student reviews the forms with the participants and explains how to file them in the local county court. Attorney volunteers, such as Valerie, Lorena, and Pooja, also join the Zoom meeting to provide supervision and oversight. Participants also receive a next steps document that includes model pathways for changing other identity documents, including a social security card, driver’s license, and passport.

Before joining Mintz, Valerie, who is also a USD School of Law alum, began volunteering for the clinic after receiving an email from the San Diego County Bar Association about the clinic’s need for supervising attorneys. Through her continued involvement, Valerie has also established informal mentoring relationships with several of the students, giving her the opportunity to offer professional guidance to future lawyers. As of August 2023, Mintz attorneys have helped about 25 participants of the clinic.

“Within a few weeks of reaching out to the clinic, participants have what they need to move forward with living their authentic lives, including in their identity documents,” Pooja said.

“Having the engagement of attorneys of the quality of those at Mintz and other bigger firms is vital to the work we do. It’s meaningful for the participants to see that people they perceive as elite, powerful lawyers care about them individually and are willing to support and affirm them. Mintz’s involvement also provides important mentorship, networking, and engagement opportunities for the students.”

Robert Gleason

Co-founder of the USD Law Transgender Name and Gender-Marker Change Clinic

Volunteer Spotlights

Volunteering for the clinic is incredibly rewarding because it allows me to help people who are asking for something very basic — legal recognition of their gender — as well as mentor law students.  

Valerie Phan


“My volunteer work with the clinic is personally and professionally gratifying. In just a few hours, I can help several people update their records to reflect their identities, making an instant impact and difference in their lives.”

Lorena Niebla


Pro Bono Team

Lorena NieblaAssociate

Valerie PhanAssociate

Pooja D. PujaraAssociate

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