Earlier this month, the Young Lawyers’ Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association honored a local attorney for the countless hours of pro-bono assistance she’s offered to low-income transpeople.
Natalie Hrubos was presented with the Craig M. Perry Service Award during the YLD’s annual meeting April 14.
A labor and employment attorney who recently joined firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, Hrubos has worked with more than 50 transgender clients over the past few years to help them navigate the often-complex processes for document and identification changes associated with a transition.
Hrubos is an ally who first began lending her services to the trans community during her education at Temple University Law School.
She carried out her clinical work during school at the LGBT Law Clinic that was then situated at Equality Advocates, and which has since been moved to Mazzoni Center, where she now sits on the legal advisory board for the legal services department.
During her time interning at the clinic, Hrubos said she was struck by the high volume of requests for assistance she and other intake interns received from trans community members.
“We got a lot of calls from transgender individuals seeking help with legal name changes and correcting their identity documents,” she said. “And I was really interested in assisting in this area because it’s such an important part of someone’s life. It’s so important for people to have appropriate identity documents, and it’s often very different for a lot of transgender individuals to have access to these.”
Hrubos returned for an advanced clinical the next semester in which she focused exclusively on trans clients and, when she graduated in 2009, was compelled to continue taking on such cases pro-bono.
While interning at the clinic, Hrubos had worked with department director Amara Chaudhry to press the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to relax its gender-marker rules, which it eventually did last summer.
“We were aggravated by how the rules on gender-marker changes were preventing our clients from accessing appropriate identity documentation, and so we reached out to PennDOT to begin the conversation about changing the rules to better reflect the realities of trans people’s lives,” Hrubos said.
The rule change allowed for trans individuals to correct their genders on their state identification cards without having to have actually undergone sex-reassignment surgery, which Hrubos said has been helpful, although making such a change on birth certificates is still challenging.
Despite the numerous obstacles the trans community must overcome in securing proper identification, Hrubos said there is a dearth of opportunities for legal assistance tailored to the specific needs of transgender individuals.
“There’s definitely a severe lack of access to trans-competent services even here in Philadelphia, and then when you go beyond the city into other surrounding areas, there’s often really nothing for this community. The folks at Mazzoni Center do a fantastic job, but there are only two attorneys there and the law students, so it’s difficult for them to fulfill the needs. I’ve been working on the legal name changes, but there are so many other legal obstacles facing the trans community — employment issues, prisoners’ rights, health-care access, immigration, basically every aspect of the law — and the community often can’t get access to attorneys who’ve been trained to be culturally competent in this area.”
Hrubos sits on the programming committee for the annual Trans-Health Conference, coming up in June, and which this year will offer a cultural-competence training for attorneys and another session that educates lawyers on how to advocate for trans and gender-variant youth.
She planned and organized the conference’s first-ever legal clinic and Continuing Legal Education program, both of which will return this year.
As a result of her experience with trans clients, Hrubos has begun advising employers on the issues this community faces in the workplace and how organizations can create the most diverse and accepting workforces. In that vein, Hrubos will present “Creating a Trans-Friendly Work Environment: What Every Employer Needs to Know” during this year’s THC.
Hrubos said that the Craig M. Perry Award is not only a recognition of the myriad pro-bono work she’s done personally, but also of the fact that this type of work is needed and valued.
“It’s an obvious honor to receive an award for putting time into something. But I’m even more excited about it because it comes from the Philadelphia Bar Association, which isn’t trans-specific or LGBT-specific. It’s an organization that represents the broader legal community, so it’s really great to know that there support for this type of work and interest in this from the broader community.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].