Melvin Lewis ’22

Transgender Law Center, Oakland, CA

This summer, I had the privilege of working at Transgender Law Center (TLC), a trans-led national organization advocating for self-determination for all people. TLC’s work is wide-ranging, including programs like the Disability Project, the Positively Trans project for transgender people living with HIV, and Southerners on New Ground (SONG) movement based in the American South. I worked primarily with the legal team who run the Prison Mail Response Program, sending know-your-rights resources to incarcerated individuals, as well as the Legal Helpdesk, where anyone can ask specific questions and receive legal information online. They also run legal clinics (now virtually) and sometimes serve as pro bono lawyers.

My principal job was conducting research. My largest project was updating TLC’s database on gender identity legal protections. Currently, only 24 states and the District of Columbia outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing and employment, and 23 states and DC ban this discrimination in public accommodations. That means in 26 states one can be fired or denied a lease for being transgender, and in 27 states one can be discriminated against in a movie theater, coffee shop, or hospital setting. For this reason, I knew my research was valuable. Other publicly available databases claiming to have this information are outdated or incomplete. TLC’s own spreadsheets had not been updated since 2018, so I located dozens more city- and county-wide protections across the country in places that do not have state-level laws.

Additionally, I contributed to a project begun by previous interns, compiling information about gender-affirming healthcare available through Medicaid. I identified state-wide policies where they existed and located information about all the Managed Care Organizations that provide Medicaid in the state. I was responsible for all of the states located alphabetically from California to Minnesota, as well as Tennessee, Wyoming, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The previous interns had covered all of the other states and territories, so TLC now plans to publish a complete guide with this information.

I also sent Freedom of Information Act requests to seven state Departments of Correction regarding policies of relevance to incarcerated transgender individuals. While several states did not respond to my repeated follow-up letters and emails, I did receive a few responses with new policies and information to which TLC did not previously have access.

This kind of research is unlike anything I’ve ever done before and this internship gave me valuable insight into what it is like to work at an advocacy-oriented organization. I attended many legal department meetings and learned how their team runs and makes decisions. My supervisor also provided me with a lot of information and advice. This summer further cemented my desire to work in the non-profit sector after graduation, although I am not exactly sure where and how. I cannot thank the Class of 1972 enough for giving me this opportunity, and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for their support.