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Name-change plan reaches milestone of 1,000 people
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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On Aug. 31, the 1,007th person's name was officially changed through the Transformative Justice Law Project's ( TJLP ) Name Change Mobilization ( Mobilization ) initiative.

Among the people whose names were changed were high school students who brought their affirming parents to complete the process due to their status as minors as well as adults across all socioeconomic backgrounds.

The mobilization has provided free name change assistance since 2011 for transgender and gender expansive adults and children across Illinois.

Avi Rudnick and Carolyn Wahlskog are the co-coordinators of the mobilization alongside their full-time jobs. Rudnick is Chicago House and Social Service Agency director of scattered-site housing while Wahlskog is the 360 Youth Services ( Naperville ) LGBTQ transitional housing program senior program manager.

Rudnick got involved with the mobilization at its inception and became the sole coordinator from 2012-2017. Wahlskog came onboard in 2014 as a volunteer and became a co-coordinator last summer so Rudnick could complete his master's studies at the UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work.

"TJLP wanted to create a space at the Daley Center on the last Friday of every month that was affirming for transgender and gender expansive individuals during the application process," said Rudnick. "For many years, all of this work was done by volunteers across LGBTQ communities. Recently, we have been able to provide compensation for the coordinators of the project, contracted attorneys and for two part-time court support contractors."

"Initially, we started in Cook County but a few years ago we expanded our in-person direct services to people in DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties." said Wahlskog. "We also support folks across the state via phone and electronic filings."

"Carolyn has been leading the way in the suburbs and I am so excited that we are able to expand our capacity because of her connections," said Rudnick.

Wahlskog said for the most part, the Mobilization has been received positively in the suburbs. She explained there are there are one or two judges they get to know and that most court staff have been very helpful. Wahlskog said they also have a great relationship with several newspapers that write about the work they do.

Rudnick explained that the Mobilization's volunteers have told them they get immense satisfaction in helping people with this life-changing event, especially volunteers who were participants themselves. He said a number of people have formed bonds and created friendships due to connections they made at the Mobilization.

"We want to make this process as accessible and celebratory as possible," said Wahlskog. "We can assist folks to update their gender marker and understand how to navigate those systems so please reach out to us for support."

"In 2011, we changed 34 names in the entire year and last year we changed 180," said Rudnick. "We like to think that by providing increased access to name changes, we have played a part in making the process more affirming than it has ever been in Chicago."

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