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Lunch and learn explores legal issues affecting transgender community

| Wednesday, November 14, 2018

With transformative legal topics becoming more and more prevalent in our country and world, the Notre Dame LGBT Law Forum and Transgender Resource, Education and Enrichment Services (TREES) brought in experts to address these issues. On Tuesday, the two University student groups, along with the Hispanic, Black and Asian Law Students Associations, hosted a “lunch and learn” on legal issues affecting the transgender community.

The panel was moderated by Caitlin Canahai, vice president of LGBT Law Forum. The panelists included Carolyn Wald of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Kara Ingelhart of Lambda Legal and Noah Lewis of Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. All three lawyers work in LGBT law and have worked on cases from educational rights to restroom usage to cases pertaining to HIV or surgeries being covered by Medicare. In addition, Lewis was the first openly transgender student to graduate from Harvard Law School and to speak at Notre Dame Law School.

Canahai began with a question about what the panelists think the most prevalent issues are in the country and world’s current legal and political environment. Both Ingelhart and Wald touched on the federal pushback that is arising and emphasized the importance of state and local laws to counter that pushback.

Lewis highlighted the ability of our society to spur change in our legal system.

“We are kind of seeing [the law] start to go backwards,” Lewis said. “However, I do feel more optimistic because the difference between now and the ’70s is that so many more trans people have come out and have been able to connect with one another and once you change society, it’s hard to go back, even if the law does.”

Housing discrimination is one important issue to the transgender community, and is not just noticeable in apartment or home purchasing, but is also widespread in homeless shelters, mental health facilities, assisted living residences and prisons. All of the lawyers mentioned recent or current cases that involve mistreatment or misplacement of transgender prisoners.

Wald discussed the impact societal changes have on the legal world. She brought attention to the work the American Civil Liberties Union does for the LGBTQ community through lobbying in Congress and collaborating with other groups on the ground.

“You’re never going to get away from the importance of public opinion and public understanding,” Wald said.

All of the attorneys present made it clear that the influence society has on changes in the legal system does not just stop at lawyers themselves. They stressed the fact that this event was open to the public and it is the greater community that needs to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community in order to bring about change.

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