[Hpn] Legal clinic for the 'ignored' Gays, lesbians and transgendered are focus of project

William C. Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Mon, 14 Jan 2008 03:53:10 -0500


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Legal clinic for the 'ignored'
Gays, lesbians and transgendered are focus of project
  By Sumathi Reddy | Sun reporter=20
  January 14, 2008=20
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/baltimore_city/bal-md.ci.clinic14j=
an14,0,4706253.story











After coming to terms with her transgender status, Wendy Moretz spent =
more than a year representing herself in a custody battle over her son =
during a divorce.=20

Legal services would have helped her tremendously, the 37-year-old =
Baltimore County resident said.=20


"If I had the services back when I first transitioned and [had] known =
where to go to find a lawyer that would have been willing to really =
fight for me, that would have helped tremendously," Moretz said.=20

A group of Maryland lawyers and advocates is raising funds for the =
FreeState Law Project, an effort to start a law clinic that would =
provide direct legal services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender =
Marylanders.=20

The clinic would be the first in the state and one of a few in the =
nation, its organizers said.=20

"We found that there were very few pro bono legal services programs in =
the entire country," said Lisa Kershner, a Bethesda attorney who, with =
Baltimore attorney Nevett Steele, is heading the effort.=20

Kershner said national groups and clinics in Baltimore deal with =
particular issues, such as gay and lesbian policy issues or AIDS/HIV =
cases, but that the only broad-based direct legal services center she =
has come across is in Philadelphia.=20

The Maryland group hopes to collect $250,000 to enable its center to =
open in September. It has raised about $30,000 and is forming an =
advisory board to decide issues such as whether to incorporate as a =
nonprofit and whether the group would be based in its own space or =
partner with another organization.=20

The group is now operating out of the Public Justice Center in =
Baltimore, which serves as its fiscal agent.=20

Organizers say there is a need for a broad range of legal services =
tailored to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people because of the =
unique legal needs of people who can't legally marry.=20

"The law is different when applied to them, so that makes even routine =
types of legal problems or questions more complicated," Kershner said.=20

"There's a tremendous number of folks who have problems," Steele said. =
"Partners who are breaking up, and there is no law like there is with =
heterosexual partners."=20

Activists are preparing to fight for marriage rights for same-sex =
couples in the Maryland legislature. Last year, the state's highest =
court upheld a ban on same-sex marriage.=20

Steele said the group hopes to lobby lawmakers in support of same-sex =
marriage rights.=20

After meeting with advocacy groups, two issues that have emerged as the =
most pressing are legal services needed for homeless transgender people, =
men and women who identify as being of a gender different from the one =
they were born into.=20

"There's a large population in the city of homeless lesbian, gay, =
bisexual and transgender youth who have been sort of abandoned by their =
families, especially the transgender youth," said Aaron Merki, 24, a =
third-year student at the University of Maryland School of Law, one of =
the organizers of the project.=20

With homeless youths, issues include discrimination in the foster care =
system and schools, Merki said. Other groups in need of services include =
immigrants trying to join their partners in this country or trying to =
stay here with their partners, and those facing employment and housing =
discrimination, Kershner said.=20

Philadelphia-based Equality Advocates Pennsylvania opened in 1996. The =
nonprofit group, which serves the whole state, does legal work in =
addition to working on policy reform.=20

It received 600 to 700 calls for assistance last year, the majority =
dealing with employment and family issues, said Stacey Sobel, executive =
director of the group.=20

About 80 of those callers received free legal services. The remainder =
received lawyer referrals or other information, Sobel said.=20

Lizza Robb is among the hundreds who have received legal services from =
the group. The 32-year-old Philadelphia resident first used the clinic =
about five years ago when she and her partner wanted to have the same =
last name.=20

"We were faced with the prospect of paying a lot of money to get a name =
change," Robb said.=20

Later, they used the center for a donor contract and adoption of their =
child, and then for wills and a domestic partnership agreement.=20

"Really, without their services, we wouldn't have been able to do it," =
Robb said. "Clinics like that are really important. Before, I thought =
they would focus on higher-profile things. But in reality, one of the =
biggest impacts they have is just helping normal people get normal =
things that we should be getting anyway."=20

In addition to providing legal services, the Maryland project will =
attempt to quantify a sprawling population that often goes unnoticed, =
Merki said.=20

"These communities have been ignored for so long," he said. "We know =
they're here. So we really need to nail down who they are, where they =
are, what they're doing and what they need."=20


sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com



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<H1>Legal clinic for the 'ignored'</H1>
<H2>Gays, lesbians and transgendered are focus of project</H2>
<DIV class=3Dclear></DIV>
<DL class=3Dbyline><SPAN class=3Dstory-byline>By Sumathi Reddy=20
  </SPAN><SPAN>|</SPAN> <SPAN class=3Dstory-titleline>Sun =
reporter</SPAN> <SPAN=20
  class=3Dstory-dateline>
  <DD>January 14, 2008</SPAN> </DD></DL>
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<P>
<P>
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<P>
<P>
<P>
<P>
<P>
<P>
<P>
<P>After coming to terms with her transgender status, Wendy Moretz spent =
more=20
than a year representing herself in a custody battle over her son during =
a=20
divorce.=20
<P>Legal services would have helped her tremendously, the 37-year-old =
Baltimore=20
County resident said.=20
<P></P>
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<P id=3Dstory-body2>"If I had the services back when I first =
transitioned and=20
[had] known where to go to find a lawyer that would have been willing to =
really=20
fight for me, that would have helped tremendously," Moretz said.=20
<P>A group of Maryland lawyers and advocates is raising funds for the =
FreeState=20
Law Project, an effort to start a law clinic that would provide direct =
legal=20
services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Marylanders.=20
<P>The clinic would be the first in the state and one of a few in the =
nation,=20
its organizers said.=20
<P>"We found that there were very few pro bono legal services programs =
in the=20
entire country," said Lisa Kershner, a Bethesda attorney who, with =
Baltimore=20
attorney Nevett Steele, is heading the effort.=20
<P>Kershner said national groups and clinics in Baltimore deal with =
particular=20
issues, such as gay and lesbian policy issues or AIDS/HIV cases, but =
that the=20
only broad-based direct legal services center she has come across is in=20
Philadelphia.=20
<P>The Maryland group hopes to collect $250,000 to enable its center to =
open in=20
September. It has raised about $30,000 and is forming an advisory board =
to=20
decide issues such as whether to incorporate as a nonprofit and whether =
the=20
group would be based in its own space or partner with another =
organization.=20
<P>The group is now operating out of the Public Justice Center in =
Baltimore,=20
which serves as its fiscal agent.=20
<P>Organizers say there is a need for a broad range of legal services =
tailored=20
to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people because of the unique =
legal=20
needs of people who can't legally marry.=20
<P>"The law is different when applied to them, so that makes even =
routine types=20
of legal problems or questions more complicated," Kershner said.=20
<P>"There's a tremendous number of folks who have problems," Steele =
said.=20
"Partners who are breaking up, and there is no law like there is with=20
heterosexual partners."=20
<P>Activists are preparing to fight for marriage rights for same-sex =
couples in=20
the Maryland legislature. Last year, the state's highest court upheld a =
ban on=20
same-sex marriage.=20
<P>Steele said the group hopes to lobby lawmakers in support of same-sex =

marriage rights.=20
<P>After meeting with advocacy groups, two issues that have emerged as =
the most=20
pressing are legal services needed for homeless transgender people, men =
and=20
women who identify as being of a gender different from the one they were =
born=20
into.=20
<P>"There's a large population in the city of homeless lesbian, gay, =
bisexual=20
and transgender youth who have been sort of abandoned by their families, =

especially the transgender youth," said Aaron Merki, 24, a third-year =
student at=20
the University of Maryland School of Law, one of the organizers of the =
project.=20
<P>With homeless youths, issues include discrimination in the foster =
care system=20
and schools, Merki said. Other groups in need of services include =
immigrants=20
trying to join their partners in this country or trying to stay here =
with their=20
partners, and those facing employment and housing discrimination, =
Kershner said.=20

<P>Philadelphia-based Equality Advocates Pennsylvania opened in 1996. =
The=20
nonprofit group, which serves the whole state, does legal work in =
addition to=20
working on policy reform.=20
<P>It received 600 to 700 calls for assistance last year, the majority =
dealing=20
with employment and family issues, said Stacey Sobel, executive director =
of the=20
group.=20
<P>About 80 of those callers received free legal services. The remainder =

received lawyer referrals or other information, Sobel said.=20
<P>Lizza Robb is among the hundreds who have received legal services =
from the=20
group. The 32-year-old Philadelphia resident first used the clinic about =
five=20
years ago when she and her partner wanted to have the same last name.=20
<P>"We were faced with the prospect of paying a lot of money to get a =
name=20
change," Robb said.=20
<P>Later, they used the center for a donor contract and adoption of =
their child,=20
and then for wills and a domestic partnership agreement.=20
<P>"Really, without their services, we wouldn't have been able to do =
it," Robb=20
said. "Clinics like that are really important. Before, I thought they =
would=20
focus on higher-profile things. But in reality, one of the biggest =
impacts they=20
have is just helping normal people get normal things that we should be =
getting=20
anyway."=20
<P>In addition to providing legal services, the Maryland project will =
attempt to=20
quantify a sprawling population that often goes unnoticed, Merki said.=20
<P>"These communities have been ignored for so long," he said. "We know =
they're=20
here. So we really need to nail down who they are, where they are, what =
they're=20
doing and what they need."=20
<P>
<P><A=20
href=3D"mailto:sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com">sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com</A></=
P></DIV>
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