Transgender Attorney Noah Lewis on Advocacy and Law

As part of our support for the media coverage around Chaz Bono’s casting on “Dancing with the Stars” and an increasing amount of transgender-specific coverage in general, GLAAD is continuing to profile prominent transgender advocates and members of the community on a weekly basis. Previously, we spoke with Laverne Cox, Jamison Green, Ph.D., and Stephanie Battaglino and Mari Rosenberger. This week, we talked to Noah Lewis about his experiences in law school and his work with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) as a staff attorney. Noah recently appeared on The Insider, showing his support for Chaz along with fellow transgender advocates.

Noah began transitioning while attending Harvard Law School. While there, he worked with the Harvard Transgender Task Force to help add gender identity to the school’s non-discrimination policy and improve insurance coverage for transgender health care. Recalling that period in his life, Noah says his path as a lawyer was fundamentally altered by his transition experience, as well as a recognition of the diversity inherent within the transgender community. “It was seeing the struggle and suffering of my friends, particularly trans women, that drove me to step up and do this work,” Noah tells GLAAD. “As a white, middle class man with a law degree, I did not and will not have the same experience as a client who may be an unemployed trans woman of color.” Yet Noah also brings empathy to his work, noting, “I understand what it’s like to deal with not being able to access medical treatment, to experience the effects of that, and struggle with the complexities of applying for jobs as a transgender person.”

As a staff attorney at TLDEF, Noah provides legal information and resources to people across the country. Additionally, he conducts research to support the various cases undertaken by TLDEF, which often deal with issues around employment discrimination, identity documents, or access to health care. Noah also coordinates the Name Change Project, a New York City-based initiative that assists transgender people with obtaining a legal name change. Noah trains a network of pro bono attorneys who represent clients through the entire legal process. Over 700 people have contacted the Name Change Project requesting assistance since its inception in 2007. A major highlight during Noah’s time at TLDEF was the day of their press conference about the filing of a lawsuit against New York City for its refusal to correct the sex of transgender individuals on their birth certificates without proof of surgery. Noting that it deals with an issue of great importance to the transgender community, Noah says, “It is an historic case, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

He asserts, “The biggest challenge in the legal realm mirrors the biggest challenge facing trans people in general, namely having one’s true sex recognized and respected by others socially and legally. This lack of recognition causes problems ranging from denial of medical care to housing transgender women with men in prisons to bathroom access.” He also mentions the denial of health care access, an issue that causes tremendous suffering for transgender people, saying, “There are still explicit exclusions in public and private insurance that single out transgender-specific care.” While there are many issues around legal protection left to address, Noah recognizes how far transgender people have come. He says, “I know that my path to success was made possible by transgender people who came before me and paved the way standing up for themselves. I enjoy working with clients who come to us and say what happened to me was wrong and I want to stand up for myself.  That’s where the real change begins. The lawyers are just along for the ride.”

GLAAD thanks Noah for taking the time to speak with us and stands in solidarity with him and his work at TLDEF to advance legal protections for transgender people.