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News Jul 15, 2014

Celebrating Pride Month at Shearman & Sterling

More than 100 lawyers, law students, summer associates, advocates, and other guests enjoyed an evening of cocktails and conversation at an annual Pride Month celebration at Shearman & Sterling’s New York office last month. The event was co-hosted by the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) and Sterling Pride, the firm’s LGBT inclusion network.

Following an introduction by Sterling Pride co-chair Darren Ishmael, partner John Cannon, who chairs the firm’s Diversity Committee, welcomed the attendees. Cannon talked about the firm's longstanding commitment to LGBT equality, noting that Shearman & Sterling was among the first law firms with an in-house LGBT inclusion network, the first law firm to participate in the "It Gets Better" video project, and an early adopter of gross-up benefits to ease the tax inequities burdening same-sex partnerships. He also mentioned the firm’s ongoing support of LGBT issues through its pro bono work, including participation in TLDEF’s Name Change Project, which provides pro bono legal assistance to transgender individuals undergoing the process of a legal name change.

An ‘Extraordinary Day’ for TLDEF

Following Cannon’s remarks, TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman talked about his organization’s efforts and recent wins. The Pride Month celebration at Shearman & Sterling coincided with an “extraordinary day” for TLDEF, Silverman said, as an op-ed in The New York Times called attention to progress in policies affecting transgender people in the US.

The op-ed outlined recent civil rights advances such as the Obama administration’s recent reversal of a 1981 policy that excluded gender reassignment surgery from coverage under Medicare; the growing number of employers and insurers covering gender transition services; and a change in New York State policy that lifts a requirement for proof of gender reassignment surgery when gender designations are changed on a birth certificate. However, the Times editorial board pointed out that this latter policy change has not yet been adopted by New York City. The Times also highlighted New York’s discriminatory exclusion of transgender health care from the Medicaid program. “There is hope on the horizon, but still a lot of work to be done,” Silverman said.

Talking a long view, Silverman noted the “unprecedented advances” that have taken place for LGBT rights in the 45 years since the Stonewall protests. He thanked Shearman & Sterling for its continued support, along with Viacom, a longstanding client that has teamed with the firm to provide pro bono assistance to the Name Change Project. 

"Once again, we were thrilled to welcome our colleagues, friends, and supporters to our annual Pride Month celebration with TLDEF," says Darren Ishmael, who organized the event with co-chair associate Jackson Murley, partner advisors Beau Buffier and Rob Ellison, and Shearman & Sterling’s Global Diversity & Inclusion team including Anna Brown and Evelyn Molina. "The continued success of this reception is a great example of our firm’s commitment to the important cause of LGBT rights, as well as the strength of our relationship with TLDEF. As Michael observed, much remains to be done to ensure fair treatment for all LGBT individuals, but we are pleased to have many successes to celebrate this year.”

A Win for Equality

One recent success was a legal victory for pro bono client Charlie Kerr, whom the firm represented in consultation with TLDEF and counsel from Viacom, Inc.    as part of the Name Change Project. In March, a New York civil court judge granted Ms. Kerr the right to change her legal name from Charles Marshall Kerr to Charlie Marion Kerr, but in doing so, the judge inserted language into the order stating, “This name change does not constitute proof of a change in gender.”

As part of a successful motion to modify the court’s order, Shearman & Sterling argued that this unnecessary language referring to a gender change, which does not appear in the name change orders of non-transgender people, violated Ms. Kerr’s privacy and had the potential to expose her to added scrutiny and the possibility of discrimination. On April 30, the Civil Court of the City of New York issued a decision deleting the language from Ms. Kerr’s name change order.

Adds associate Jackson Murley, who argued the motion, “Charlie’s courage throughout the application and motion process inspired us, and we’re grateful for the excellent assistance provided by TLDEF and Viacom.”

In addition to Murley, the Shearman & Sterling pro bono team included partner Beau Buffier, associate Elan DiMaio, and special associate Christian Pugaczewski, assisted by Alfredo Flores of the Managing Attorney’s office. Michael Housley of Viacom also worked on the matter.  

To learn more about TLDEF and the Name Change Project, click here.