EBCLC's Daniel Faessler Honored with 2019 Kathi Pugh Award

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June 12, 2019
Daniel Faessler (back row, center) with colleagues and students at May 9, 2019 EBCLC Graduation Ceremony

PC: RSVP Event Photography

Between providing robust client services and training the next generation of public interest advocates, supervising attorneys at the East Bay Community Law Center have a lot on their plates. As Daniel Faessler has demonstrated, though, these connected aspects of EBCLC’s mission can be two sides of the same coin. This spring, Daniel was awarded Berkeley Law’s esteemed Kathi Pugh Award for Exceptional Mentorship – an honor named for one of EBCLC’s co-founders and bestowed upon just one clinician per year. Described by their teammates as “a trailblazer who champions experiential legal education in spaces where students and clients alike have historically felt unwelcome and unsafe,” Daniel has sparked in EBCLC a necessary urgency in serving transgender communities, particularly transgender communities of color, and paved the way for students who want to do the same.

United in Advocacy

Since 2015, Daniel has served in EBCLC’s Health and Welfare Clinic as a staff attorney and clinical supervisor. In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, they worked with students to launch the Name and Gender Change Workshop (NGCW), a drop-in clinic at which first-year law students provide transgender community members with free legal support in updating their identification documents. 

“After the election there were a lot of concerns about being able to update passports in a timely manner before the new administration made it more difficult,” said Daniel. “We held an emergency workshop and began offering them regularly in spring of 2017, and the workshops have been growing since then.” Today, around 200 people have been provided with free legal assistance to update their documents.

“I knew the Name and Gender Change Workshop was going to reduce discrimination for our trans and queer clients and allow them to live as authentically as possible,” Daniel said on May 9, 2019, accepting the Kathi Pugh Award at Berkeley Law’s Public Interest and Pro Bono Graduation Ceremony. “What I didn’t realize is that we would also be creating a space and a community of primarily queer and trans law students who were advocating for their peers, and in addition to that, bonding over that advocacy.”

PC: RSVP Event Photography

Rising to the Occasion

Beyond fostering community and providing essential services, Daniel is also working to meet the needs of transgender community members by building up specialized skills among students with a deep interest in LGBTQ+ advocacy – skills that can be hard to come by in today’s legal services sector. 

While some legal organizations have fought for policy reforms to protect transgender people through litigation and lobbying, Daniel has made sure that EBCLC is on the front-lines of implementing and enforcing those hard-won protections. For example, 25% of respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reported experiencing a problem in the past year with their insurance related to being transgender. Daniel has leveraged the Health and Welfare Clinic’s expertise in appealing health care benefit denials to fight this kind of discrimination, granting more patients access to medically necessary gender-affirming treatments.

As crucial as these interventions are, the need for free legal services specifically tailored to transgender communities currently outpaces EBCLC’s capacity to help. “We’re the agency in the East Bay with the most experience providing these services, we’re trusted in the community , and we’ve had so much success improving health outcomes through our medical-legal partnerships,” Daniel said. “With increased resources, we would be so well-positioned to meet the legal needs of low-income transgender people in a much more comprehensive way.” 

We Are the Ones

As they took the stage to accept the Kathi Pugh Award, Daniel looked out at the crowd of graduating scholars and spoke to their own journey from student to supervising attorney and civil rights advocate. “ As a brown-skinned, queer, trans person, I haven’t always felt reflected in the law school or legal profession. So, I never really had models to look to, in terms of being a clinician. Instead, I decided to be the clinician that I would have wanted to have,” they said.

In that pursuit, Daniel’s success is best described in these words from one of the law students they have thoughtfully mentored: “Daniel gave me the courage to embrace who I am and not be ashamed. Daniel taught me that an attorney doesn’t have to look like the ones on television: white, straight and male. That instead we get to define what a lawyer looks like and acts like. And, that we belong in this institution, even if it does not feel like it.”

EBCLC congratulates Daniel Faessler on this timely and well-deserved honor.