The Last Word: Abigail Churchill ’15

Abigail Churchill
Abby Churchill is founder and director of Trans Law Help Wisconsin and a compliance manager at CUNA Mutual Group

Why did you go to law school?

It’s ironic. As a teen growing up in a family full of lawyers, I wanted to do something different. It wasn’t until later I realized I was thinking about law all wrong. It is more versatile than I first imagined. I could use it to do what I wanted: work with the LGBTQ community who took care of me when I came out, and give back to the community I call home.

What was your law school experience like?

I began law school at Golden Gate Law School in San Francisco, and realized the Bay Area wasn’t for me. I felt this calling back to Madison and my Midwest roots — something no Californians understood! After my first year, I transferred to UW Law. Being a transfer student joining a new community midway through law school can be daunting, but Professor Gretchen Viney took me under her wing. Her course, Lawyering Skills, became my favorite class, and in fact, I still use the course materials.

What made you want to return to the Midwest?

In part I realized the need to address the unique legal concerns of the trans community. Before I left the Bay Area, I interned with the Trans Gender Law Center, which opened my eyes to the possibility that I could help people disadvantaged by the legal system. While there were many resources available on the coasts and in bigger cities, legal support for the trans community wasn’t easily available elsewhere. It still isn’t available in more rural areas.

You work full time and managed to create Trans Law Help in your free time. How did it all come together?

I call Trans Law Help my favorite extra-curricular; it is all volunteer, and something I love doing. After the 2016 election, there were immediate fears and concerns within the LGBTQ community. I joined other attorneys who were reaching out to the LGBTQ community on Facebook, offering my help to individuals seeking to correct identity documents that reflected their authentic name and gender. I was inundated with questions. People even found my work phone and showed up at my office. I realized we needed to do something in a cohesive and centralized manner, and Trans Law Help was created.

What happens at the clinics?

We explain the complex process for obtaining a name and gender marker change, a process that touches on documents including birth certificates, drivers licenses, and passports. We also provide hands-on assistance with completing the required forms. It’s a process that can take several years to complete and can be expensive, too. We recently began to offer financial assistance, as well as emotional support in court.

What is next for Trans Law Help?

I hope it continues to grow in a meaningful way — to be able to create our own nonprofit and hire full-time staff would be incredible. As someone who is cisgender, I am constantly aware that the clinic serves a community that I am not a member of. I tried to ensure this resource is truly serving the trans and nonbinary communities and to have that guide our growth.