Talk with Katie Jenifer about her work and pro bono experiences and it won’t take you long to see the depth of her commitment or the magnitude of the positive effect she’s had in the community. The proud mom of two queer kids, Katie was driven to enroll in NCCU School of Law to start a second career at the age of forty-five after witnessing the legal and policy challenges her youngest daughter faced alongside her transition and the related need for more accessible legal services and advocacy in the community.
As a law student, Katie let her passion drive her. In her 1L year, Katie began researching and meeting with people holding name change clinics across the country to prepare to bring the service to NCCU. “I knew upon entering law school that I wanted NCCU to have a name change clinic/pro bono project to help overcome the barriers that my family faced,” she shares. “How could we make this process more accessible to more people? How could we ease the financial burden by providing legal assistance for free? How could we meet people where they were in the process and stay connected with them for as long as they needed us? How could we train law students how to work with LGBTQ+ clients to ensure no harm was done in the process of providing this service? How can we leverage NCCU’s HBCU legacy to reach more BIPOC clients who face additional barriers when accessing legal services? These were just some of the issues we contemplated when working toward creating the clinic/pro bono project.”
In December of 2020, with the help of Katie as well as many students, community members, organizations, and attorneys, including NCBA’s own Mikayla Mann and bex kolins, NCCU had its first name and gender marker correction clinic. NCCU has since hosted clinics every other month. Through these clinics, clients receive comprehensive advice and assistance with the name change process. This process may involve getting a name and gender correction on a North Carolina issued birth certificate and/or having the name and gender on a North Carolina driver’s license corrected. To Katie, these documents offer dignity, respect, and empowerment while also serving as a vital tool in client’s daily lives. The volunteers at these clinics also help clients understand where the corrected identity documents will need to be updated and how local rules may impact the client’s experience. Further, past clinic participants are invited back to each clinic as a form of ongoing support. “We intentionally didn’t want the clinic to be a one-and-done type project because there are so many layers to this process for the trans community, especially for members who hold space in other intersections of marginalized identities. Without ongoing help, many folks would face so many barriers that the whole process would become overwhelming and seemingly impossible. We are able to provide support no matter where a person is in the process and no matter how long it takes to complete.”
Katie continues to co-lead corresponding trainings and volunteer Q & A sessions, volunteer at each clinic, attend and co-facilitate team planning meetings, coordinate with NCCU to solicit student volunteers and ensure compliance with NCCU guidelines, assist other law schools with their clinics, and advertise the event to the community. She is quick to note that the NCCU name change clinics are a community effort with many individuals and organizations assisting in their initial and ongoing planning and implementation.
Katie currently works as an associate attorney with NicholsonPham in Durham where she focuses on estate planning, family law, and name and gender marker corrections. Before starting with NicholsonPham in September, she worked as a staff attorney with Legal Aid’s The Child’s Advocate representing minor children in highly contentious custody cases. In addition to being a member of the Family and Juvenile Law Sections, Katie currently serves on and was an inaugural member of the Sexual Orientation Gender Identity (SOGI) Committee and acts as one of the co-chairs of their Pro Bono and Community Engagement Subcommittee. In her free time, is an ongoing volunteer with Transcend Charlotte and Guilford Green.
Ever seeking to expand her impact, when asked what else Katie would like to share about her work, Katie responded with a call to action for us all – please consider supporting this important work by signing and sharing the 2022 U.S. Trans Survey, the “largest survey of trans people, by trans people in the U.S.” which will “document the lives and experiences of trans and nonbinary people ages 16+ in the U.S. and U.S. territories” and by donating to the LGBTQ+ Center of Durham to help cover the costs associated with a name correction (which total around $300 per person).