Supporting Justice in Action, at a Pivotal Time
More than 160 people attended this year’s Justice in Action luncheon on Friday, February 10 at Loews Philadelphia Hotel, which raised a record-breaking $62,000 in support of Mazzoni Center Legal Services. Event co-chairs Michael D. Soileau and Jessica Meller, Esq., expressed their gratitude to guests and sponsors for their generous support.
“We’re very fortunate to have a community of legal professionals and so many others in Philadelphia who recognize and support the critical work this program does,” Soileau said. Mazzoni Legal Services is the only program offering free legal services tailored to address the needs of low-income LGBTQ Pennsylvanians
Meller, of Saul Ewing, LLP, noted that while significant strides have been made in fighting discrimination and inequality, “It’s important that we continue to make direct legal help available through this kind of program, so that the civil rights and legal protections so many fought for are truly accessible to all.”
The day began with a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program entitled: Protected or Not? When, Where and How do Sex Discrimination Laws Protect LGBTQ People?
Moderated by Andrew A. Chirls, Esq., of Fineman, Krekstein and Harris, and featuring panelists Katie Eyer of the Rutgers Law Faculty, Omar Gonzalez Pagan, Esq., Staff Attorney in the New York Office of Lambda Legal, and Brian McGinnis, Esq., an Associate Attorney with Fox Rothschild LLP, the CLE program was attended by approximately 60 people. The panel reviewed key court and agency decisions from recent years and looked ahead to the future, in cases involving employment discrimination, education, and health care.
Among the highlights of the afternoon luncheon was the presentation of Mazzoni’s Justice in Action award to Mara Keisling, who founded the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2003, and continues to lead and the growing organization. NCTE is the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people.
In introducing Keisling, Mazzoni Legal and Public Policy Director Thomas Ude summarized the reasons for honoring her this year, noting that: "Years ago, she believed passionately in an entity that did not yet exist, and in a world that did not yet exist, and made them into reality."
Keisling shared some key findings from the 2015 US Trans Survey, which was developed and administered by her team at NCTE. It is the largest survey ever devoted to the lives and experiences of trans people, with data collected from nearly 28,000 individuals.
Among its findings are that trans people in the U.S. are twice as likely to be living in poverty, and face three times the national unemployment rate. Remarkably, 39% of respondents to the survey reported having experienced “serious psychological distress” in the prior month.
She also noted the advances made by trans and gender nonconforming people in recent years. Keisling spoke of the success of the recent campaign, led by NCTE and other civil rights organizations, against North Carolina’s HB2 (also referred to as the “bathroom bill”), which resulted in a significant backlash from many corners,
"We did not let them get away in North Carolina,” Keisling said, noting that other states have since backed off plans for similar legislation.
She also spoke directly to the need for intersectionality in any movements or campaigns that seek to advance LGBTQ rights. "Justice has to be for everyone. It isn't justice if it's just for ‘us,’" Keisling said.
We were joined by Betsy, who spoke eloquently to the impact Mazzoni Center had on her family during her son’s gender transition. "We had one place to turn to for all the resources that we needed,” she said, adding that having a team of professionals with the expertise to assist them with medical and also legal services allowed her family “to focus on our son and his needs."
Betsy closed by acknowledging her feelings of anxiety, in a rapidly changing political landscape where many rights and protections for LGBTQ people, and trans people in particular, appear more vulnerable than even a few months ago.
"Families like mine need your help, we need your skills, we need your advocacy," she said, in a nod to the legal professionals and other allies in the room.
Special thanks to 2017 Justice in Action committee members Andrew Chirls, Katelyn Hufe, David Huting, Sara Jacobson, Margaret Klaw, Brian McGinnis, Gloria Melunis, Matthew Ray, Jul Miller-Robinson, Brian Seaman, and Maggy Wilkinson.
Thanks to the sponsors of this year’s luncheon for their generous support:
Presenting Sponsor ($10,000+)
Athena Global Advisors
John R. Alchin and Hal Marryatt
Gian-Grasso, Tomczak & Hufe Immigration Law
Juli Miller-Robinson, PhD and Walker Robinson
Michael Soileau and Thomas Ude, Esq.
Saul Ewing, LLP
Ballard Spahr, LLP
Berner Klaw & Watson, LLP
Andrew Chirls, Esq. and Jim Bullizi
Fineman Krekstein & Harris, P.C.
Fox Rothschild, LLP
Richard Horrow, Esq. and David Hullhorst
David F. Huting, CFA
Jerner & Palmer, P.C.
Arthur M. Kaplan, Esq. and R. Duane Perry
PNC Wealth Management
Jimmy J. Ruiz, MD and Matthew Capucini
Sellers Dorsey Foundation
Nurit L. Shein and Sue Levi Elwell
Jessica and Evy Crespo-Meller
John Cunningham, Jr.
Frank DiCicco and Associates
Kate Kleba, Esq.
Matthew Miller, Esq.
R Perry Monastero and Estuardo Orozco
Anthony Rodriguez, MD and Michael P. Williams, Esq.
Rudolph Clarke, LLP
Miriam Edelstein, Esq.
Katie Eyer, Esq.
Fenningham, Dempster & Coval, LLP
Jeremy Gussick, CFP
Galfand Berger LLP
Kelly A. Harris
Gloria Melunis, Esq.
Carolyn Rumbarger, Esq.
Myrna Soto and Elaine Pascual
Susan Van Allen
- Legal issues faced by transgender adults, adolescents, and children
- Training for Legal Professionals
- Pediatric & Adolescent Comprehensive Transgender Services (PACTS)
- Sisterly LOVE: Support for Trans Women
- Gender Affirming Services
- 2016 Philadelphia Trans Resource Guide
- Welcoming Our Trans Family and Friends