For too long, Alex Corona had seen transgender people carrying the burden of their “dead names.”
The biggest obstacle to changing this final piece of their identities was often the sheer complexity of the legal system. Rarely could the petitioners seeking a name change afford to hire a lawyer and would often resort to trying to go through the process pro se.
Enter Corona, who – as transgender program coordinator at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center – has made it her mission to ensure that everyone who wants a name change is not prevented by obstacles in the legal system.
“There were people who for 30-plus years were still living with the weight of their dead names,” she said. “I wanted to help people free themselves from that name. I want you to be who you are and see that reflected on your documents.”
The procedures she came up with to help ease the burden of name changes were devised in concert with Milwaukee County Judge William Pocan and former Chief Judge Maxine White. In a one-day seminar, the judges explained to a group from the LGBT center about the steps necessary to legally changing a name. Also present were lawyers from Foley & Lardner and staff from the Milwaukee Justice Center.
Pocan later told the Wisconsin Law Journal: “Our little investment of time with Alex has saved us a lot of time in the court system. She’s been doing everything. She’s incredible.”
Corona, who worked in Milwaukee Public Schools before finding her way to the LGBT center, said her work is far from over. There are various changes she’d like to see made to state law, which – for instance – still make it nearly impossible to alter the name appearing on a birth certificate.
One thing that’s not in the plans is becoming a lawyer herself.
“I’ve thought about it, but it’s not something I’m called to do,” she said. “Right now I’m on the outside, and can say: ‘This is wrong.’ I’m hearing directly from the people I’m serving.”