Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

PNC’s corporate legal team lends helping hand to transgender community


PNC’s corporate legal team lends helping hand to transgender community
A name is generally assumed to be legally permanent when given at birth. It follows a person throughout their life. Without it, routine tasks can become difficult, if not impossible. The simple act of producing identification - which often does not look like them, does not identify them as the gender they identify with, and uses a birth name that feels foreign to them - can all bring shame to many people in the transgender community.

Having a legal name and identification that matches their identity can help a transgender person's experience and allow them to confidently present an ID.

“People are people, and they deserve to be respected. They deserve to live their lives authentically,” says Sonia Chung, a member of PNC’s corporate legal team and pro bono committee.

Chung works with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund's (TLDEF) Name Change Project1, which connects transgender applicants with legal counsel to help them navigate the process of changing their names.

Members of PNC's corporate legal team provide legal advice to participants in collaboration with Pittsburgh-based law firm Reed Smith. They've donated many hours to the program, assisting dozens of transgender people with the name change process at no cost to participants.

“While you don’t need a lawyer to help get your documents changed, it is daunting to do this without support,” said Chung. “The whole process, from beginning to end, is several months of work and interaction.”

This work entails fingerprinting and conducting background checks for any issues such as outstanding debts or criminal convictions, followed by filing paperwork with the court system. Attempting to go through it without an advocate can be overwhelming and costly. When faced with doing it on their own, transgender people frequently give up out of frustration.

“It probably takes a month or two with the court, then there is a court hearing where the name is finally changed. Once the client has their paperwork and it matches who they are, hopefully they can move forward,” opined Chung.

She estimated that paying for such assistance might cost several thousand dollars.

“The clients I’ve typically seen through the program don’t always have resources, and it would be very difficult to hire a private attorney,” added Chung.

She recalled two clients who were working but qualified for government assistance. They would not have been able to change their documents without the help of the community.
Aside from the cost savings, the court process becomes more accessible with the assistance of an attorney. The transgender person has an advocate who addresses them by their chosen name, uses the pronouns with which they identify, and shows them respect.

Since its inception in 2007, the Name Change Project has assisted in the facilitation of over 3,000 name changes, with 384 completed by 2021. The program currently serves residents of all five boroughs of New York and several counties in New Jersey, with plans to expand to Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Detroit.

Volunteering Pro Bono
PNC Managing Senior Counsel Katy Leonard volunteers at pro bono clinics as well, and she says the work provides great education and insight into the issues, risks, and emotional strain that disadvantaged clients face.

“Because I’m not a member of the transgender community, I never really thought about the barriers to them feeling empowered to do things on a day-to-day basis. I see how the rest of us may take that for granted,” said Leonard. “Life can be really difficult for transgender individuals with concerns about privacy and safety. So, we counsel them on the process for ensuring their name and address are not on public record.”

Blair Miicke, another PNC managing counsel, also participates in the Name Change Project. He sees his involvement as being in line with PNC's efforts toward Corporate Responsibility, diversity, and inclusion. He encourages prospective volunteers to participate in the entire process because it will provide them with a better understanding of the client and their story.
“Volunteers can’t pry into the lives of clients,” said Miicke, “but if you listen, you learn what they have had to do to get where they are and to be comfortable with themselves. And that’s all pretty amazing.”

Participation in the Name Change Project is consistent with PNC's ongoing support of organizations that promote diversity and inclusion in the LGBTQ+ community. PNC, for example, supports the mission of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and has joined its Business Coalition for Equality Act. This coalition is comprised of a group of leading U.S. employers who support the Equality Act, federal legislation that would provide members of the LGBTQ+ community with the same basic protections as other protected groups under federal law.

PNC has been named by HRC as one of the Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality for the tenth year in a row.

These commitments reflect PNC's investment in actively supporting an inclusive culture outside of the bank's walls - one in which people in the communities served by the bank can feel seen and valued, and their dignity is upheld.

“Having a name that both affirms and aligns with who you are and how you wish to be identified can be a transformative experience. It not only empowers the person, but it also improves their access to the same resources others enjoy and supports true inclusion,” said Gina Coleman, PNC chief diversity officer.

“From that perspective, the Name Change Project’s lasting emotional and practical impact can’t be measured.”