Our History

The Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois (TJLP) is a Chicago-based project. TJLP was founded in the autumn of 2008 by a collective consisting of Lisa Marie Alatorre, Lauren Cumbia, Owen Daniel-McCarter, and Lewis Wallace. Since our founding, nine other people have been in the collective: Jakob VanLammeren, Avi Rudnick, Lark Mulligan, Myles Brady, Monica James, Ryan Anderson, Satya Chima, Vi Ray-Mazumder, and Tanvi Sheth.

We were founded to fill the urgent need for holistic, abolitionist criminal legal services for transgender and gender non-conforming people in Illinois who are targeted by the criminal legal system, and to address gaps in the mainstream LGBT civil rights movement.  TJLP’s founding collective assessed the needs of trans and gender non-conforming people in the Chicago area and throughout prisons and jails in Illinois by first meeting with local community groups providing basic need services to the populations TJLP aimed to serve.  The founding collective met with many of these same organizations as well as national orgs to design TJLP’s financial structure. At that time, TJLP’s collective decided that the project would thrive and remain accountable to its values most effectively by operating outside of the non-profit model.

Our project is founded on the deep recognition of the fundamental failures of the U.S. legal system which we believe inherently promotes classism, racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, ableism, and imperialism. We want to build a collective awareness of the injustices perpetrated by the state through the legal system, and to support the empowerment of those most affected and targeted by the prison-industrial complex. We see zealous legal services not as a solution to institutionalized oppression but rather an immediate response to the ways the legal system disempowers individuals, threatens community-based activism, and prevents radical education and transformative justice.

We recognize the harms that the U.S. legal system perpetrates against oppressed people, and we see advocacy within the criminal legal system as a harm reductionist approach to support and empowerment. Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies that reduce negative consequences of damaging systems, behaviors, etc. Harm reduction strategies move away from “abstinence-­‐only” responses to harm and instead meet people where they are at by coming  up  with  ways  to  minimize harm  without  necessarily  eliminating  it. Examples of harm reduction are needle  exchange programs for IV drug users, bad date sheets shared amongst folks in the sex trade, or a  cigarette smoker reducing the number of  cigarettes they smoke per day instead of completely quitting.  Beyond harm reduction, we believe in transformative justice as a necessary alternative to the current legal system and aim to use the tools we have available to support transformative justice.

Low income and street-based transgender and gender non-conforming people are targeted in specific ways by the criminal legal system, and are often placed at more risk for this targeting because of gender-related exclusion from potential support networks. In addition, because of transphobia and homophobia, transgender and gender non- conforming people are often excluded or alienated from legal services for low-income people. We aim to counter these specific harms through gender-affirming advocacy and support.

We do not see reform or direct services alone as a solution to systemic oppression, instead we support a long- term broad-based movement for prison abolition. Supporting low-income and street- based transgender and gender non-conforming people targeted by the criminal legal system is part of our commitment to a larger movement of resistance that is strongly based in spiritual, political and personal interconnection.

OUR IMPACT

Since our founding, we have:

  • Changed more than 1,000 names since 2010.

  • Represented clients in more than 52 criminal cases since 2017, preventing pre-trial incarceration and long-term incarceration sentences for all of them.

  • Represented over 53 clients in expunging their criminal records since 2017, removing significant barriers to obtaining employment and housing.

  • Advocated for over 30 clients in Cook County Jail since 2017, including placement and medical access.

  • Provided brief service, referrals, and legal advice to over 300 people at roving legal clinics.

  • Facilitated over 100 know-your-rights workshops for transgender people at partner agencies, with over 800 people trained since 2008.

  • Facilitated over 100 CLE’s and trainings for staff at partner agencies, with over 1,000 people trained since 2008.

  • Hosted Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2015 and 2016.

  • Collaborated with The Transgender Law Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and 43 other transgender organizations around the U.S. to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of the United States for a pending case considering whether employment discrimination against transgender people is unlawful under Title VII.