Summer at Equal Justice Works and Fellows as Defenders of LGBT Rights
Summer is always an exciting time for us at Equal Justice Works as thousands of law students spread out across the country to work at public interest organizations. I just ran into a very talented public interest lawyer with a spring in his step who told me how thrilled he was now that the summer law clerks had arrived. We love the energy and enthusiasm that law students bring to our work.
Summer Corps is an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps program that provides 700 law students with the opportunity to spend their summer working on behalf of underserved communities. We have run this program for many years, and I am consistently amazed at the results these students achieve. And these public interest experiences will often ignite a passion that will guide these students as they make choices about how to spend their careers. We hope many will apply for fellowships!
Some law students will see firsthand that there are some injustices that will not be fixed in one summer. The wheels of justice turn slowly, and it is hard to be patient in the face of injustice.
But every major advance for justice requires people on the front lines, patiently and persistently pushing for their cause. Recently, we have seen the fruits of those labors, particularly around civil rights for the LGBT community. Just nine months ago, after years of advocacy, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) law was officially repealed, allowing gay and lesbian military members to openly serve in the military without fear of discrimination. People previously discharged under DADT can now re-enlist, and gay and lesbian Americans can openly join for the first time.
And just a few weeks ago, we saw President Obama and Vice President Biden voice their personal support for gay marriage—a watershed moment in a decades-long crusade for equal rights.
Those historic advances make this year's LGBT Pride month (June) special and worth celebration. Let us also take this occasion to highlight the Equal Justice Works lawyers and law students who are working to protect the rights of the LGBT members of our communities. One of our many outstanding Summer Corps members is Haley Warden, who served at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) in Washington, DC, last summer. Haley spent her summer at SLDN assisting a team of lawyers who were providing free, confidential legal services to LGBT veterans and service members who faced unfair treatment due to their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Now she is finishing up her JD at Duke Law School, and plans to continue in the field of LGBT defense for veterans.
Danny Kirchoff was a 2009 Equal Justice Works Fellow who started a project at the Transgender Legal Center (TLC) in San Francisco, CA, to address the legal needs of the transgender community. After finishing his fellowship, Danny stayed on at TLC and continues to work there as a client advocate, helping transgender people on many levels, from protecting their right to use their gender-identified restroom to fighting workplace discrimination and accessing medical benefits and social services.
The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that all people receive equal protection under the laws. As we have seen throughout our history, it takes determined lawyers to make those rights real. I am proud of our record at Equal Justice Works to support Summer Corps members and Fellows who are working hard to protect the rights of all individuals, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexuality.
Defending LGBT Veterans' Rights
Haley Warden spent last summer in Washington, DC, as an Equal Justice Works Summer Corps member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). There she focused on legal issues of service members and veterans who faced discharge and discrimination under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law (DADT). By working quickly and thoughtfully, Haley helped several veterans change their military discharge status from dishonorable to honorable just in her first few weeks.
Haley spent that summer researching the legal issues that would arise or continue after the repeal of DADT last September. From her extensive research, Haley created a guide for LGBT service members and their families that explores statutory benefits for same sex marriages. The guide also instructs clients on how to access benefits and provides guidance for navigating potential problems that could arise. This information is invaluable to those families facing complicated legal issues from DADT, and Haley’s work putting together the guide will surely have far-reaching benefits.
These days, Haley is finishing her JD at Duke University Law School. She says that her Summer Corps experience was “truly inspiring,” and she is planning to continue working in the field of LGBT civil rights, serving veterans and service members.
During her summer of service, Haley became an avid believer in the power of public interest law to help LGBT veterans. “I am absolutely committed to giving back as I move forward in my career,” said Haley. “I was originally skeptical of having an impact in the civil rights arena. I thought that I would have to be a senior partner to have an impact, but I learned that even my ‘grunt work’ is making a difference.”
Advocating for Transgender Californians
As a 2009 Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Transgender Law Center (TLC) in San Francisco, Danny Kirchoff implemented Project Access, a program to provide legal services to low-income transgender Californians. Working with social service providers, Danny sought to decrease the barriers to economic self-sufficiency of the transgender community, and increase the legal community's capacity to represent low-income transgender clients by providing trainings and formalizing TLC's network of cooperating attorneys.
According to Danny, “the most significant legal issues faced by the transgender and gender non-conforming individuals who contact [TLC] are discrimination and harassment in the areas of employment and health care and access to identity documents that reflect individuals gender identity.” Danny has confronted these issues by hosting regular “Know Your Rights” workshops that cover the legal rights of the transgender community. The workshops are hosted at various local community centers where anyone wishing to know their rights is welcome to come. Hosting workshops like this not only informs people about their rights, but also lets them know that TLC is available to help them if they need representation.
When Danny’s Equal Justice Works Fellowship ended, he was hired to continue working on his project at TLC. In the past few years, he has been able to help thousands of transgender community members overcome economic and legal challenges that were preventing them from living full and authentic lives. “I am particularly proud of my success in helping clients challenge denials of medically necessary health care under California’s Medi-Cal program and in working with homeless shelters across California to end discrimination against homeless transgender people,” Danny said.
“It is an amazing time to be part of the movement for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender civil rights! One recent victory that is very exciting is the decision of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression or transgender status is prohibited sex discrimination under Title VII. This ruling was issued in the case of Macy v. Holder, brought to the EEOC by Transgender Law Center on behalf of our client Mia Macy,” says Danny. This kind of decision not only improves the life of the client, but paves the way for more equal rights for all transgender people. There is still significant progress to be made in protecting the rights of transgender people, but with information, patience and understanding, people like Danny Kirchoff are truly making a difference.
Repayment Options for Recent Grads
The class of 2012 has graduated, but even as caps and gowns are mothballed and diplomas are framed, the reality that student debt will have to be repaid is slowly sinking in. Here are a few things graduates should know as they enter the real world.
There are a wide variety of repayment plans for federal loans. A standard 10-year repayment plan is great for those who can afford the payments. If those payments are too high, however, graduates should consider Income-Based Repayment (IBR) and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR). These plans help make payments affordable by capping them at a percentage of graduates’ incomes and provide for forgiveness after 25 years. And, for graduates interested in public service careers, these are qualifying plans for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
The calculators at Finaid.org are a great resource. They can help graduates compare the short- and long-term effects of different repayment plans and determine what's right for them. Graduates who don’t have a job after their six month grace period ends should look into deferment or forbearance.
Unfortunately, private lenders do not necessarily provide these repayment options. Graduates with private loans should talk directly to their lenders if they cannot make their monthly payments.
Other helpful resources are our free educational debt manual and free student debt webinars. We’ll host our next webinar, "Drowning in Debt? Learn How Government and Nonprofit Workers Can Earn Public Service Loan Forgiveness, on June 28 at 3 p.m. ET.