Published: October 2023
Written by: Kimberly Rommel-Enright
The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County (LASPBC) has long been a beacon of hope in the community. For almost 75 years, it has provided a voice to those people in Palm Beach County who would otherwise have no one to speak up for them. Many of the lawyers in Palm Beach County know that Legal Aid represents children, families, and individuals in a myriad of legal proceedings including dependency, immigration, domestic violence, and housing. What fewer lawyers may know is that Legal Aid has had a long history of providing legal services to the LGBTQ+ community. Now, more than ever, LASPBC is here for LGBTQ+ community members who experience discrimination, harassment, domestic violence, and suicide rates at higher levels than many other populations.
The LGBTQ+ community continues to face challenges, especially as new laws are implemented affecting LGBTQ+ individuals, such as the Safety in Private Spaces Act – F.S. 553.865, requiring individuals to use certain school and public building restrooms that align with the sex they were assigned at birth. The attorneys, staff, and volunteers at LASPBC are here as resources to help interpret the ever-changing legal landscape and provide legal advice. LASPBC is dedicated to ensuring that all Palm Beach County residents have equal access to the fundamental rights they deserve. It aims to enhance the quality of life, personal dignity, and right to self-determination of individuals experiencing economic and social needs such as:
• Housing Discrimination
• Medical Provider Discrimination
• Probate Issues
• Same-Sex Marriage/Divorce Issues
• Domestic Violence
• Family Law
• Transgender Name and Gender Marker Issues
Through its Fair Housing Project, the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County investigates and represents victims of discrimination by housing providers against buyers or renters of all protected classes including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. For instance, LASPBC assisted a transgender woman who was looking for an apartment to rent. The client saw an apartment with a for rent sign indicating that it was available. The client called to inquire about the apartment and was given a time to view the unit and meet the landlord. When the client arrived for the appointment dressed as a woman, the landlord told the client that the property was not available. The client felt that it was odd that the landlord would not have canceled the appointment made the prior day if the unit was rented. The client contacted LASPBC feeling that the landlord was treating the client differently based on the client’s appearance. The Fair Housing Project intervened and found that the rental unit was still on the market. It conducted a test of the property and discovered the landlord was turning prospective tenants away based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. This case represents the type of important aid LASPBC can offer to LGBTQ+ individuals.
LASPBC also does proactive outreach and educational work for Palm Beach County’s LGBTQ+ youth. Its Education Advocacy Project provides advocacy and legal services to overcome barriers to public education for school-age children.
LASPBC’s dedicated attorneys are also readily available to provide name and gender marker change assistance to transgender individuals. Over the past five years, LASPBC has represented almost one hundred transgender adults and children in securing legal name changes. Many of them, like “Steven” (real name not used for confidentiality), a young adult with the birth name of “Stephanie,” had lived his entire life with a gender and name that did not conform to how he felt and identified. After he transitioned, all of his legal documents reflected his birth or “dead” name, not his chosen name. This created complications in his daily living, school, and eventually work, as his name did not reflect his appearance and how he identified. Steven came to the LASPBC to seek help with a name and gender marker to change so that he could live his life as his true self. The office completed the name change for him and assisted him in obtaining his legal documents with the correct name and gender. This simple legal proceeding now allows Steven to engage safely in the community with less fear of discrimination and retaliation.
The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County doesn’t just celebrate Pride in June, it is a concept embedded in our mission every day, and we pride ourselves in being a safe space for all. If you would like to volunteer for pro bono work generally, or specifically assist our LGTBTQ+ community, please reach out to Jerry Leakey, Esq. at Jleakey@legalaidpbc.org.
Kimberly Rommel-Enright is a supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Inc. Ms. Rommel-Enright has been an attorney with the Legal Aid Society since 1992. In addition to her supervisory duties, Ms. Rommel-Enright handles select adoption, custody, paternity and guardianship cases, as well as a range of cases for members of the LGBTQ community.