Caprice Bellefleur, 57, got her BA in Economics at the U. Wisconsin @ Madison, and earned her JD. She’s been married 17 years, has no children, and is a member of the bar of the State of NY. She retired after 25 years as a computer programmer, and though she felt the urge to CD since she was a child, she didn’t – to any great extent – until she was in her mid 40s. She considers herself a person of mixed gender, and has presented as a woman in public for 7 years. Caprice is not only the treasurer of CDI-NY, but carries the special burden of being King’s Envoy on the (en)gender message boards – meaning, she’s a moderator. She handles both roles with class, culture, and enviable cleavage.
1. You do a lot with organizations for the larger GLBT, and I was wondering what kinds of things you do, and how/why you realized that service to GLBT orgs should be part of your life as a crossdresser.
I like to attend the meetings and functions of GLBT groups when I canâ€“political, legal, social, all kinds of groups. I think it is important for trans people to be visible in the LGBT community, so that weâ€™re not just a meaningless initial tacked on at the end. There is a lot ignorance about trans people among gays and lesbiansâ€“not all that much less than in the straight community, actually. Iâ€™ve given the “Trans 101″ class to more gays than straightsâ€“especially if you count the “outreach” Iâ€™ve done in various gay and lesbian bars. And an important part of my “Trans 101″ lesson is to explain how there is significant overlap between the GLB and the T segments of GLBTâ€“many GLBs are gender-variant (“umbrella” definition T), and many self-identified trans people have G, L or B sexual orientation. When people understand that, they understand why the T belongs with GLB.
I am a member of several GLBT organizations, but I have really only been active in one: the LGBT Issues Committee of the New York County Lawyers Association (NYCLA) . Even that was something of an accidentâ€“though I now believe it to have been a very fortunate one.
I think I started with the Committee in 2002. I wanted to do something to advance the legal protections of trans people, and the Committee seemed like a good fit. (I would have gotten more involved in the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA), but its Saturday afternoon meetings were very inconvenient for me.) I had been a member of NYCLA for many years, and I saw a notice in its newsletter for the Committee. The notice outlined the Committeeâ€™s mission, which included legal matters relating to all LGBT people (even though its name at the time was still the Committee on Lesbians and Gays in the Law). I e-mailed the chair, and found out that a) a trans person would be welcome, and b) the meetings were quite convenient to my schedule. So I went, and I joined. I was the first trans person on the Committeeâ€“and the only one until this year.
From the start I was surprised at how much of the Committeeâ€™s work was trans-relatedâ€“close to 50% that first year. The main thing was the founding of the West Village TransLegal Clinic Name Change Project. This is an operation where volunteer lawyers help people obtain legal name changes, something very important to anyone who is transitioning, or has already done so. I attended a number of meetings where we worked out the logistics among the various organizations involvedâ€“besides our Committee, the Gender Identity Project (GIP) of the LGBT Center and the LGBT Lawyers Association (LeGaL) were instrumental. It was there I first met Carrie Davis of GIP, Dean Spade of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and Melissa Sklarz of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats (GLID). Melissa, in her role as co-chair of the LGBT Committee of Community Board 2, was very helpful in getting funding for the Clinic. What developed was a monthly non-representational drop-in clinic at the LGBT Center. We (the volunteer lawyers) interview the clients and complete the Petition for Adult Name Change, which the clients then submit to the court. I usually serve once or twice a quarter.
I also served on the Law Firm Survey Subcommittee. We developed a questionnaire about the policies and practices concerning LGBT employees and the LGBT community, which we submitted to the 25 largest law firms in New York City. Our primary goal was to create a resource for LGBT law students to help them decide where to look for a job. There was a section of questions about trans issues, which I largely wrote. We envisioned giving report cards to the various firms, grading them on how we thought it would be for an LGBT person to work there. We were pleasantly surprised to find that all of the 24 firms that replied were at least somewhat LGBT-friendly. For instance, every one of them offers benefits to the same-sex partners of employees. We decided to forget about the grading. The section on trans issues was not quite as encouraging as the rest, though. Only one firm explicitly included gender identity and expression in its non-discrimination policy. None had any procedures or specific policies covering employees who wished to transitionâ€“and none of them reported having had an employee who had done so. A substantial percentage of the firms had dress codes that were not gender-neutral. Next year I want to do a follow-up survey, to see if there have been any improvements by the firms. (The report can be found at www.nycla.org/siteFiles/Publications/Publications38_0.pdf. It won the award for the best committee report at NYCLA this year.)
Right now, I am working on getting NYCLA to endorse the New York State Gender Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). I drafted a report outlining the reasons why, which has been adopted by the Committee, and sent to the NYCLA board for its consideration.
I think my work on the Committee shows there are many gays and lesbians who want to help trans people achieve the legal protections that they have, or are still working to achieve. Most, if not all, of the other volunteer lawyers at the TransLegal Clinic are gay or lesbian. I am the only trans one. I have never seen any reluctance, let alone opposition, from any of the other Committee members to the Committeeâ€™s work in trans areas. The trans community is decades behind the gay and lesbian community in organizing to achieve its civil rights. We would be fools not to work with them.
Personally, I will continue with my work with the NYCLA Committee, perhaps in a leadership role next year. I also am being proposed for a position on one of the LeGaL boards for next year. One of my problems is not biting off more than I can chew, because I am also active in trans-specific organizations, such as the NYS GENDA Coalition (currently under construction), and Crossdressers International.