MILWAUKEE — A legal name change is often an important and affirming step for members of the transgender community. But the process to do so can be complicated, time-consuming and expensive. All things Alex Corona, the transgender program coordinator at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, know firsthand.
"I ran into a lot of roadblocks and barriers and confusion, and in my own process, it was pretty inaccessible," Corona said about her experience changing her name to what it is now in 2018.
The process includes various legal documents, a court hearing and a publication of the name change's court hearing in a newspaper of record for three weeks. The Milwaukee Justice Center and UW Milwaukee's LGBTQ+ Resource Center have detailed explanations on their website about what's required at each step. According to Corona, the process can take six weeks to complete and even then a name change isn't guaranteed.
Another barrier for many people is the nearly $400 in fees incurred at nearly every step along the way.
"The cost for the name change prohibits so many people from even wanting to start the process. People carry their birth names or their dead names around with them as sort of a boulder of frustration," Corona said.
So, after her facing her own challenges to change her name, Corona decided to start the Legal Name Change Workshop at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center.
"To help break down the barriers, to help people understand the process, to really make it available to do so, which is without legal help," Corona said.
And, through grants, the programs also help to cover the fees associated with a name change.
In just a few years, the center has helped over 60 people successfully change their names. Elle Halo, an LGBTQ health equity advocate in Milwaukee, was in the first group of people the workshop helped through the process.
"This work is literally one person at a time changing and touching people's lives. It's changing whole families," Halo said of the name change workshop.
For Corona, it's all about making sure people in the transgender community have the chance to align their name with their gender identity.
"It's that lessening of the dysphoria, which is that feeling that your gender doesn't match your expression or gender at birth," Corona said.
Halo said that being able to change her name also impacts her safety and employment opportunities. She said before changing her name, her legal documentation was often the source of discrimination, biases and even potential violence.
"It's something that I've definitely experienced, compromising my safety, just having my birth name and former gender marker on my ID," Halo said. "Pulling out your ID at a club or while you're traveling can quickly turn into something that can be an outing and quickly into something that can be traumatizing and can lead to actual danger as well."
For those reasons, and more, the name change program already has dozens of people signed up to take part in workshops this year.