Supplier in the Spotlight: Frye, Benavidez & O'Neil

| By James Gleason

Phyllis Frye has led the way for the transgender movement over the past four decades, earning her the nickname of the "Grandmother" of the transgender movement. Nationally recognized for her work in promoting transgender issues, Phyllis continues her advocacy through her work at Frye, Benavidez and O’Neil, PLLC, and takes exclusively transgender clients, guiding them through the Texas court system to change their names and genders on legal documents.

Frye, Benavidez & O'Neil in the Spotlight:

  • Name of business: Frye, Benavidez and O’Neil, PLLC, Law Firm
  • Name of founders: Originally John Nechman, Jerry Simoneaux and Phyllis Frye,  Over the years, John and Jerry went elsewhere.  I've stayed and have taken other partners over the years to the current configuration.
  • Date founded: Originally in 2004.  Phyllis has been the consistent partner of the firm
  • Date certified: September 25, 2017
  • Location of business: Houston, Texas
  • Number of employees: Six, but currently interviewing to add two more.

1. What is Frye, Benavidez, and O'Neil?
Frye, Benavidez and O’Neil is an OUT, LGBTIQ law firm that serves the legal needs of LGBTIQ and supportive, straight ally clients.  One half of the firm focuses on business and commercial clientele, while the other half focuses on the private client needs that are handled by most solo practitioners. You can see more of our work on our website

2. What is unique about your business? What need is your business attempting to address?
Frye, Benavidez and O’Neil is unique in its diversity. Half are women: half are men.  Half are LGBT: half are supportive straight:  Half are caucasian: half are persons of color.  We seek to fill the need for a law firm where clients do not have to closet themselves or explain themselves as to who they are or to the diversity/minority issue they deal with.

3. What were you doing before you founded your business?
I was a solo Practitioner for Private clientele issues – mostly criminal defense and transgender documents.

4. What are your goals for your business? 
We hope to remain successful to the extent that other LGBTIQ and supportive straight folks feel comfortable to come OUT as to being either LGBTIQ or as to being supportive straight folks. 

5. How has being a member of the trans community and an NGLCC certified LGBTBE impacted your business, if at all?
In general, being out since 1976, I have faced decades of discrimination as trans even from the gay and lesbian community, and even the gay and lesbian legal community. When the “gay” community was still ignoring or marginalizing the transgender community in the early 1990’s, I began the national transgender legal and political movement with the six annual transgender law conferences (known as ICTLEP) and their grassroots training. Things in my life began to ease up in 2004 when I was asked to begin this law firm (of which I later became the head). In 2008, the national Employment Non-Discrimination Act bill before Congress was finally trans-inclusive and in 2010, I became the first out transgender judge in the nation.  (NOTE: In Texas, municipal court judges can continue to practice law.)  My wife of forty-four years has taken all of the “hits” that I took.

While the members of my firm practice law in a variety of areas, I currently practice exclusively with taking transgender clients – some as young as five – through the Texas courts to change the clients’ names and genders on their legal documents. We have only recently become certified through NGLCC, so it is still early to see how certification will impact us.

6. What advice would you give to a trans person starting a business in your field?
Trans law students should begin interning out-of-the-closet.  I suggest taking one of the internships with the local prosecutor’s office to get actual courtroom experience.  Also, find the National LGBT Bar Association on the internet and attend each annual  “career day” that it offers.  It will be difficult, but OUT is always best. If I “made it” after coming out in 1976, you can “make it” forty years later.

This blog post is part of a series celebrating Transgender Awareness Week (November 13-17, 2017) by highlighting the contributions of trans business owners. Interested in having your LGBTBE in the spotlight? Email [email protected].