By Amy Nelson
“Public service is a privilege,” says Angela Buckner, a volunteer lawyer at Whitman-Walker’s Name and Gender Change Clinic. Angela has sought out public service throughout her career, and is one of the clinic’s many proud volunteers.
Angela served in law enforcement while attending night classes at George Washington Law School at night. The GW Law Public Interest and Pro Bono Program gave Angela her first taste of pro bono work, connecting her with the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, AARP, and Outserve-SLDN.
After graduating from GW Law, Angela joined the commercial litigation group at Nixon Peabody, a signatory to the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge whose lawyers averaged 45.5 pro bono hours in 2015. At Nixon Peabody, Angela participated in a variety of pro bono initiatives: She helped undocumented kids obtain asylum, partnered with the DC Pro Bono Center on family-law and landlord-tenant cases, and represented students with special education needs with the School Justice Project.
Angela also began volunteering with Whitman-Walker Health at the Name and Gender Change Clinic. Since launching in 2012, the clinic has trained more than 200 volunteers and served more than 750 clients. And thanks to funding from TransLAW, the clinic offers financial aid to clients to help them obtain documents that they need. Clients range in age from 5 to 65 and travel from as far at Kentucky and North Carolina to get these services.
Angela is now a Reserve Officer in the U.S. Army Reserves and an Assistant United States Attorney at the United States Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC. Still, she’s drawn to the pro bono services provided by the Name and Gender Change Clinic.
Once a month, she explains the process for name or gender-marker changes with queer and transgender clients who walk in. While I don’t sit with any one client throughout the entire process, I enjoy helping clients begin to navigate the legal system,” Angela says. “I find that most clients simply want to know where to start.” Angela, in turn, loves seeing how the Clinic can immediately change people’s lives.
Angela also notes how diverse the clients are. “Clients come from all walks of life. Some fled their homeland a month before visiting the Clinic. Some are young people living in counties in Virginia and Maryland where these services aren’t offered. Some are homeless; some are lifetime federal employees,” Angela explains. “You can’t help them overcome every obstacle; you can’t fix everything. But you can see them as people – as individuals – and, step-by-step, you can help them ensure that their identity documents reflect the person we already see, and the person they know they already are.”
For those who need help or want to volunteer, the Whitman-Walker Name and Gender Clinic is held once a month at 6:30 p.m. at Whitman-Walker Health at the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center. Interested clients or volunteers should email Contact-Legal@whitman-walker.org.
Amy Nelson is Director of Legal Services at Whitman-Walker Health.