Know Your Rights

FAQ for Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Youth

Q. How do I make sure people call me by the right name and use the right pronoun?

A. You have the right to insist that your school and community use the name and pronoun you desire—whatever your age. But most people find it useful to back up these changes officially as well.

If the name on your birth certificate no longer suits how you want to be seen in the world and you’re at least 18 years of age or have parental consent, you can legally change your name—whether you are transidentified or not. The procedure varies slightly from state to state, but it generally involves filing paperwork at a clerk’s office, paying a court fee of $100-200, signing affidavits to assure the court you are not changing your name to defraud anyone, and then appearing before a judge who will approve the change. The judge’s order can be used to change all your identity documents.

Changing your name is not the same as changing your gender on your birth certificate; that is a separate, sometimes complicated process through different legal channels. Some transgender people wait and change both their name and their birth certificate at the same time, but most change their name first so they can begin legally living with the name before socially or medically transitioning. For more information about IDs, click here.

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Q. How do I get trans-affirming healthcare?

A. Everyone deserves access to quality health care, regardless of one’s ability to pay for it.

To read Lambda Legal's FAQ about getting access to transition-related care, click here.

Some cities have clinics designed to treat transgender youth specifically: for example:

  • Howard Brown offers a low-income walk-in clinic for LGBT people in Chicago
  • Dimensions Clinic offers free low-cost health services for queer, transgender and questioning youth in San Francisco.

Most state Medicaid programs do not cover transition-related health care, but in some states (California, Minnesota and Massachusetts) transgender people have successfully challenged the denials. If you apply for Medicaid to cover your transition-related health care and are denied coverage, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 212-809-8585, toll-free at 866-542-8336 or go to www.lambdalegal.org/help.

No matter where you live, it may be possible to find doctors with transgender patient experience, but more commonly you’ll need to work with a doctor who is less familiar with trans care. Transcend Transgender Coalition puts out a publication called Trans Care Advocacy (accessible at vch.eduhealth.ca/pdfs/GA/GA.100.Ad95.pdf) with steps on how to navigate the health system for yourself or on another’s behalf. Also check out the health care protocols provided by the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at www.transhealth.ucsf.edu.

Even if you are incarcerated or in foster care you have the right to transaffirming healthcare. Lambda Legal successfully claimed in Rodriguez v. Johnson et al. that a young transgender woman could not be denied access to her prescription hormone medication. In Fields v. Smith, Lambda Legal and the ACLU convinced the court to rule that a blanket ban on health care for incarcerated trans people is unconstitutional.

There is no set age limit for starting on prescription hormones related to transition; some doctors start transgender youth on hormone blockers at the onset of puberty, while others recommend waiting. But doctors need to assess a patient’s situation on a case-by-case basis. If you are under 18 years old, you need parental/guardian consent to begin hormone treatment.

Because getting access to hormones can be difficult, some transgender people look for them without a prescription, but these illegally trafficked hormones can cause additional health problems if not monitored by a doctor.

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Q. How can I protect myself from anti-TGNC harassment and violence in school, on the street, or by the police?

A. No matter where you live, you are entitled to equal protection under the law, according to the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. You’re also covered under the federal hate crimes law, which means that if you experience violence because of your gender identity or expression, the crime may prompt greater police attention and a higher penalty than if you’re attacked for some other reason. Some states and regions also have laws specifically protecting TGNC people from discrimination. Even in areas with no such laws, however, you may have legal rights under existing sex discrimination or disability laws.

Schools are supposed to protect you as well. So if you experience physical or verbal violence at school, it is important that it gets reported to the administration, whether by you or by a peer or teacher whom you trust to speak on your behalf. (For more about the legal rights of LGBTQ young people in schools and other settings, such as group homes, foster care and juvenile justice, visit Lambda Legal's comprehensive online guide, Know Your Rights: LGBTQ Teens and Young Adults.)

Unfortunately, police are not immune to transgender prejudice, and many youth contact Lambda Legal for being harassed while lawfully hanging out in public spaces or just walking the streets, because officers make assumptions that something illegal is going on. If you feel you have been targeted, illegally arrested, harassed or attacked because of your gender identity or race, please call our Help Desk at 866-542-8336 or visit us online at www.lambdalegal.org/help.

(To read our FAQ about police mistreatment and other anti-TGNC harassment and violence, click here.)

You have the right to be yourself in public and not to be targeted by the police simply because of your appearance.

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Q. How can I find work?

A. To read our FAQ about the legal rights of TGNC people in the workplace and the challenges they face on the job, click here.

TGNC young people often find themselves needing to be self-sufficient before their peers do, struggling to make money to survive on the streets or to pay for health care not covered by insurance or by their own families. Yet they are often passed over for jobs because of prejudice about the way they may look. The National Trans Discrimination Survey—data compiled by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2009—found that trans people are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed and that the poverty rate for trans people is double that of the general population. The shortage of options forces many young TGNC people into street economies, including the drug trade and sex work.

Discriminating against workers for not conforming to sex stereotypes and assumptions has frequently been found illegal, however. Lambda Legal recently won an important case in Georgia, for instance, on behalf of a transgender woman who was fired for transitioning on the job. (For more information about that case, click here.)

Another great resource is the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative (www.teeisf.org), which helps empower and educate transgender job seekers in the SF area through mentoring partnerships with other trans people. Their strategies and resources may be helpful in other parts of the country too. Transgender sex workers may benefit from information in the pamphlet Taking Care of Yourself, published by SWEAT: www.sweat.org.za/.

Age may also be a factor for transgender young people looking for work. If you’re under 18, your state may bar it. In most cases, however, you can get a special permit from the Labor Department or a guidance counselor at school. A list of each state’s age requirement can be found here: www.dol.gov/whd/state/certification.htm.

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Q. How do I find a safe place to live?

A. First, remember that you are far from alone in needing shelter. Most transgender youth encounter some trouble at home, whether living with family or not. There are 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States, and studies estimate that anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of them are LGBT-identified. There are very few homeless shelters focusing on the needs of LGBT youth, but in New York City, the Ali Forney Center offers housing and a range of services.

As you may know first-hand, prejudice at shelters and agencies serving homeless youth can be just as trying as problems with family acceptance. If you are living in a group home, remember that you do have the right to be respected as a transgender person.

  • For information on how to talk to loved ones and work towards acceptance, consider contacting the Family Acceptance Project (familyproject.sfsu.edu).
  • If you encounter discrimination or mistreatment in a shelter, group home or other residential facility call our Legal Help Desk at 866-542-8336, or visit us online at www.lambdalegal.org/help.
  • You can also find more about your legal rights in these out-of-home care settings at Lambda Legal's online guide, Know Your Rights: LGBTQ Teens and Young Adults, available here.

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Q. If I have legal problems, how do I make sure my (criminal or family court) attorney is really advocating for me?

A. You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect in such matters and to have your gender identity respected by your attorney. Check out:

  • the American Bar Association’s Opening Doors for LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care: A Guide for Lawyers and Judges (available at www.americanbar.org)
  • the attorneys at Lambda Legal are willing to share their expertise and research on these issues with other attorneys who have similar cases. You can call our Help Desk directly, but also encourage your attorney to call us at 866-542-8336, or visit us online at www.lambdalegal.org/help.

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New York: A Trans-Friendly Policy Takes Effect

In 2009, New York City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA)—the agency responsible for handling public benefits and homeless services—adopted a policy prohibiting discrimination against transgender clients. The change was especially significant for TGNC youth because they so often rely on public benefits, especially when aging out of foster care—not to mention the huge numbers of homeless TGNC youth in the city.

This groundbreaking win came after years of pressure from the transgender community in NYC, led by the Audre Lorde Project, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SLRP) and Queers for Economic Justice. There were street protests to draw public attention to the issue, and leaders spent time educating the agency and drafting language for changes in the law.

While NYC’s protection for transgender people receiving public benefits is currently the only such protection on the books and there is current struggle to ensure it is being enforced, similar campaigns are ongoing in other regions of the country as well.

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RESOURCES: SOME USEFUL GUIDES FOR TGNC YOUTH

  • KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: TEENS & YOUNG ADULTS This Lambda Legal online resource is a comprehensive guide to the legal rights of LGBTQ youth in schools as well as young people who are homeless or living in foster care, group homes or juvenile justice. http://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/youth
  • TRANSGENDER RIGHTS TOOLKIT: A LEGAL GUIDE FOR TRANS PEOPLE AND THEIR ADVOCATES: This Lambda Legal publication includes fact sheets on many topics, including: Equal Access to Public Bathrooms; Transition-Related Health Care; Transgender Parents; Workplace Rights & Wrongs. See the complete toolkit and download the fact sheets at www.lambdalegal.org/publications/trans-toolkit/
  • BENDING THE MOLD: This Lambda Legal publication helps you make your school a safer place, whether you are transgender or gender-nonconforming, questioning, or an ally. www.lambdalegal.org/bending-the-mold

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FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Lambda Legal at 212-809-8585, 120 Wall Street, 19th Floor, New York, NY 10005-3919. If you feel you have experienced discrimination, call our Legal Help Desk toll-free at 866-542-8336 or go to www.lambdalegal.org/help-form.