PARENTAL RIGHTS FOR TRANSGENDERED PEOPLE, by Karen Doering

 

Hi, this is Karen Doering of the Equality Florida Legal Advocacy Project.  I am one of the attorneys on the Kantaras case (along with Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Collin Vause, a family law attorney in Clearwater, Florida.  We don't have any official press releases, but I'll paste below a copy of a case summary that we wrote in an effort to raise some additional funds to help finance this case (transcript costs, expert witness fees and expenses and other litigation related costs are in the ball park of $30,000 so far!).  Here's the summary:

 

The hearing in this case, which ran from January 22 to Feb. 8, 2002, was televised in its entirely by Court TV.  The case has also been covered by the New York Times, CNN, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, the Early Show on CBS, and other major national media.  All three major networks are currently vying for the opportunity to do an extended story on the case once the decision is issued, which will be in approximately three to six months.  The case is garnering this high degree of media attention because of its extraordinary importance in determining whether a transsexual person may marry and become a legal parent.

 

Michael Kantaras is a transsexual man (i.e., a female-to-male transsexual) who completed his gender reassignment in 1987 and then subsequently met and married his wife, Linda.   The marriage took place in Florida in 1989.  Michael and Linda have two children, ages ten and twelve.  Linda was fully aware of Michael’s transgender status prior to the marriage.  Nonetheless, now that the parties are divorcing 10 years later, Linda is arguing that Michael should be considered legally female and their marriage should be deemed void.  Sadly, Linda is making this argument in an effort to destroy Michael’s parental rights, which depend upon the validity of the marriage.  Michael adopted the first child, who was three months old when Michael and Linda married, in a stepparent adoption.  The second child was born via alternative insemination.  Both children love Michael very much and would be devastated by losing him as a parent.  The court-appointed custody evaluator in the case recommended that Michael be given primary custody.  If Linda’s argument prevails, however, he will likely lose all rights to maintain any relationship with the children.  

 

This case raises an important legal issue that has only been addressed in a bare handful of cases nationally and that has never been addressed in Florida:  Will the law  recognize the reassigned gender of a transsexual man who has been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID), who has undergone sex-reassignment in accordance with the internationally recognized medical protocol for treating transsexual persons, and who is considered male by the medical profession?  Or will the law forever consider such an individual to be female – the gender he was assigned at birth? 

 

This case differs from previous transsexual marriage cases for a number of reasons:  it  has received unprecedented national press attention; we have presented the most complete and detailed medical record, including testimony from three of the foremost medical experts in the field, ever presented in a U.S. case involving transsexual rights; and it is one of only two such cases involving the right of a transsexual parent to maintain a parental relationship with his children.  (The other is a trial court case from 1998 in Orange County, California, in which NCLR attorney Shannon Minter was co-counsel with the ACLU of Southern California). 

 

This case will also establish what we hope will become the prevailing legal standard in similar cases throughout the country.  Through the fortune of good timing, this case arose just at a time when there is an emerging consensus among medical and legal experts in this field on the appropriate standard for determining the legal gender of a transsexual person – namely, that when a person has completed the medical process of sex-reassignment, he should be treated as a legal member of his reassigned sex.  The alternative, which is to attempt to identify the criteria that should determine a person’s legal gender (such as reliance on chromosomes, genitals, etc), has not been successful and has caused enormous damage to transsexual people.  Our strategy in this case has been informed by an unprecedented collaboration between the leading legal and medical experts in this field.   Judge O’Brien has asked for additional briefing in this case before he issues his decision.  If he adopts the standard we have proposed, which we hope and believe that he will, we are confident that other courts will look to this decision as a model for how to deal with transsexual persons in a humane and reasonable way. 

 

Unfortunately, the costs of putting on the most effective case possible have been enormous.  To date, our accrued costs are approximately $18,000, none of which include attorney fees -- all three attorneys for Mr.. Kantaras are litigating this case pro bono.  We have just been informed by the court reporter that the trial transcript is estimated to cost an additional $12,000-17,000.    While we have already received a $10,000 grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Strategic Litigation Project to help cover litigation costs, we anticipate that our out of pocket litigation costs will exceed $30,000 before we complete the trial portion of this case.

 

 

    If anyone on this listserve would like to make a contribution to help cover the tremendous litigation costs in this case, you can help by making a tax deductible donation to the EQFL Legal Advocacy Project on-line at http://www.eqfllegal.org/, or by making a check or credit card contribution to "EQFL Legal Advocacy Project" 3708 W. Swann Avenue, Tampa, FL  33609-4522.  For more information about this case, you may contact me at 813/873-2357, or Shannon Minter of NCLR at 415/392-6257.  Thanks in advance for any financial support you may be able to provide! 

 

ÓCopyright 2002 by Karen Doering. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved subject to fair use.

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