5 Reasons LGBTQ Legal Services Are More Important Now Than Ever

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In merely a few days following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, dramatic change has already swept Washington.
 
The nation is currently seeing entire federal agencies muzzled, expired reproductive care legislation re-entering the fold, advancement of xenophobic immigration policies, and proposals to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Those follow on the heels of court orders blocking federal enforcement of rules that protect LGBTQ students people in education and healthcare. Frankly, the landscape is changing rapidly. We can no longer in good confidence assure people that all of the rights, resources and services that LGBTQ people and other marginalized Americans depend on will remain intact. And certainly not without a fight.
 
The repercussions from Congress and the new administration’s planned upheaval of protection for all Americans would be massive—LGBTQ Americans included. Mazzoni Center’s Legal and Public Policy Director Thomas Ude, Esq. shares just a few examples that demonstrate why, in the face of such dramatic change, it’s now more crucial than ever for organizations like Mazzoni to continue educating and providing legal services to LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.
 
Many LGBTQ people cannot afford legal services on their own.
 
“Despite persistent mythology in popular culture,” Ude says, “and as most of our supporters know, LGBTQ people are not all relegated to one particular economic status or background. Many LGBTQ Americans—and Pennsylvanians—are low-income or lower-income. They face financial and various other barriers to access basic legal services and cannot afford a lawyer on their own. In addition, low-income LGBTQ individuals, no less than their peers, need legal counsel from professionals who understand them and the identity-related issues they face.
 
In a national climate turning hostile toward LGBTQ people dramatically and rapidly, we must support access to lawyers and legal aid for people who face discrimination and harassment.
 
Without legal advice, many LGBTQ people are not even aware of the rights they have.
 
“A lot of rights that LGBTQ people have exist in laws that do not expressly mention sexual orientation or gender identity. People need a lawyer to advise them on their rights so they can live their lives,” says Ude. Workplace discrimination, discrimination in healthcare and health insurance, and discrimination in public accommodations like bars and restaurants are just a few of the areas in which Mazzoni has provided legal services and counsel. Keeping that counsel as accessible as possible is crucial to ensuring that all LGBTQ people, including those living paycheck to paycheck, know, and can assert, their federal, state, and local rights and protections.
 
Since even before the election, legal protections that seemed solid became much more uncertain, and people count on Mazzoni Center to explain the law as it is, as well as how it might change.
 
“There’s so much more uncertainty now about the rights that LGBTQ people have—and will have. They need experienced, professional advice to navigate their lives through all of that,” Ude says. “These are the same rights many in our community take for granted.” Institutions like Mazzoni must be equipped with the proper staffing, resources and accessibility to continue offering its counsel and services, regardless what the future may hold for LGBTQ Americans.
 
The volume of calls and emails to Mazzoni seeking legal assistance has grown dramatically.
 
“Even before the election, the volume of calls to our legal help line was increasing significantly. Mazzoni Center usually averages approximately 500 intake calls annually,” Ude explains. “This year, based on intakes from July 1 to Sept. 30 alone, we were on track for 650-700 calls. In the weeks immediately after the election, we saw an additional spike, with double the volume over the same period in 2015. That’s for a full-time staff of three and a rotating number of volunteers.” As those numbers indicate, a substantially higher number of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians need our legal services.
 
“The demand is increasing,” Ude says. “We need to be able to meet it.”
 
People at all stages of life need these services.
 
The range of circumstances for which LGBTQ individuals seek legal assistance includes people throughout all age groups and life stages. “We help people who are transgender get their legal name changed as part of their transition; we advise, represent, and support LGBTQ people on discrimination claims; and we help ensure that people receive the services that their health insurance and the law entitle them to,” Ude says, mentioning just some of the ways Mazzoni’s legal services center can aid LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.
 
“We empower all LGBTQ people to assert the rights they have, and to claim the lives that they want to live, to the full extent of the law,” Ude says.
 
Children, parents, adults, and seniors alike—no one is exempt from the potential need for legal counsel and protection.
 
So how can you help ensure that low-income LGBTQ Pennsylvanians continue to be educated and able to assert their rights through continued access to experienced legal services? Support the efforts of Mazzoni Center Legal Services, and join us on February 10 at the eighth annual Justice in Action luncheon. Register here and join us as we honor leaders in our community and commit ourselves to continuing our fight to protect and strengthen the rights of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.
 
Special thanks to our friends at Chatterblast Media for their support of the Justice in Action event and their assistance in preparing this post. 

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