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Thursday, July 11, 2013

LGBT Activist Wins Coveted Steel Fellowship to Protect Trans* Rights

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Kate Walsham '13, Steel Fellow

Kate Walsham ’13 has been awarded the Tom Steel fellowship from the Pride Law Fund to work on transgender and LGB issues in New Mexico, starting a legal arm for the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, in Albuquerque.

Walsham will work under the guidance of the Southwest Women’s Law Center with assistance from the local ACLU chapter.

The Pride Law Fund offers only one $30,000 fellowship each year. The grant is named after Tom Steel, a fearless San Francisco lawyer and activist who worked for LGBT rights along with numerous other progressive causes. Steel, whose father and grandfather were judges, graduated from UC Hastings College of the Law in 1975. He died from AIDS in 1998 at age 48.

Walsham will be a bit of a pioneer herself in New Mexico. She notes, “There is no one doing this work there at all, no LGBT legal rights project of any kind in New Mexico, and certainly no one practicing trans* law.”

Walsham has been interested in LGBT issues, and particularly how health care policies affect trans* individuals, since her undergrad days at Wellesley. Prior to law school, she volunteered at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and returned there for her 2L summer serving as C. Edwin Baker Law Clerk. While at UC Hastings, Walsham worked on healthcare issues for LGB and trans* individuals. She served as President of Outlaw, and as Editor-in-Chief of the Hastings Women’s Law Journal, in which her note, proposing to make the Affordable Care Act (ACA) more equitable for trans* people seeking medical care, was published last fall. She also participated in UC Hastings’ “It Gets Better” video in support of the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, she excelled scholastically at UC Hastings, winning, in a single year, three CALI Awards for the highest grade in her classes, Sexuality and the Law; Social Justice Lawyering; and Negotiation and Settlement. She rounded out her law school career with a stint at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office through the Criminal Practice Clinic program, for which she also received the CALI award. The clinical faculty also selected Walsham to receive the 2013 Clinical Legal Education Association Award from UC Hastings for her work in both the Criminal Practice Clinic and the Individual Representation Clinic.

A Wellesley alumna looking for help with how state Medicaid programs affect access to transition-related health care on behalf of a client of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico found Walsham. Walsham was able to offer some help, and thereby learned first-hand the dearth of legal services for LGB and especially trans* individuals in New Mexico.

Her Steel fellowship proposal includes plans to educate the New Mexico bar about LGB and trans* issues, centering on the ACA. She also plans to provide information directly to trans* clients of the Resource Center regarding their rights. “The New Mexico Human Rights Act specifically enumerates and protects gender identity and sexual orientation, but few people seem to know that,” she said. There has been no enforcement action in New Mexico on the topic since the law was updated to include these protections in 2003, she said.

“This is why I came to law school,” Walsham says, grinning. “It’s so awesome I get to leave school doing what I like. What I came to do.”
Walsham says her intent is to grow her project into an ongoing program. “The goal is to end up making it a sustained project, either at the Transgender Resource Center, or the ACLU, or the Southwest Women’s Law Center,” Walsham says.

Chancellor and Dean Frank H. Wu offered his congratulations to Walsham. “The best lawyers understand they do more than follow the law. They make the law. UC Hastings is the kind of place where people from every background can study the law and ensure that it gets better for all of us.”

Walsham is studying for the California bar exam this summer, and then will take the New Mexico bar exam in February. She hopes to hike part of the Pacific Crest Trail with her dog before her fellowship begins in October 2013.

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