By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Transgender people in the United States are rushing to legally change their name and gender with the help of volunteer lawyers due to concerns the community's civil rights could be threatened under the administration of president-elect Donald Trump.
In a race against the clock, transgender people have been connecting on Twitter using the hashtag #TransLawHelp with lawyers offering to help them make the changes free of charge before Trump takes office on Jan. 20, 2017.
Last week's victory for Trump has left many transgender advocates fearing a backlash against their community after the Republican candidate sent mixed messages on transgender rights during the campaign.
Trump's choice for vice-president, Mike Pence, has rankled many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights activists who are wary of the current Indiana governor's years of opposition to gay rights.
Transgender software engineer Riley, who asked to be identified by a first name only, created the #TransLawHelp hashtag after first finding legal assistance to change name with a Twitter message posted in the wake of Trump's victory.
"I thought I might as well make it bigger," Riley said in a phone interview.
Soon, Riley wrote on Twitter: "If you're a lawyer willing to offer pro-bono services for trans ppl to get their docs now, please use the HT #TransLawHelp."
The 30-year-old New Yorker said that in the 24 hours following the post, the hashtag #TransLawHelp was used some 10,000 times according to a hashtag-tracking software.
Riley acknowledged there was no clear indication that changing a name or gender on official ID cards would be made illegal under a Trump presidency, but added that distrust had prompted the initiative.
Reports of slurs and attacks against people from minority groups, including gays, have been making the headlines since Trump won the Nov. 8 U.S. election.
"I'm a little terrified after the election," Riley said.
Cassandra Kirsch, a lawyer in Denver, Colorado, said she was immediately on board after hearing about the online movement.
Though she has not gotten a referral yet, Kirsch said she has begun putting together a group of some 200 attorneys who also want to provide transgender people with name or gender change assistance for free.
"Many attorneys like myself would not have known about the pressure for this need without the mobilization of individuals using the hashtag #TransLawHelp," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Her efforts will focus on helping transgender people change their gender marker on passports, a service that can usually cost a few thousand dollars in attorney fees, Kirsch said.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)