Photo of Rafael Varela

Rafael Varela

  • Hosted by Community & Economic Development Clinic at CUNY School of Law
  • Sponsored by The Paul Rapoport Foundation
  • Service location Long Island City, New York
  • Law school City University of New York School of Law
  • Issue area LGBTQ+ Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2018
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Rafael assisted in the creation, management, and longevity of LGBTQ+ owned and operated worker cooperatives, businesses, and nonprofits.

The LGBTQ+ community in New York is creative, innovative, and resilient, however, their economic and social products are often underpaid if paid at all. This project aimed to place the vehicles for economic change under the control of LGBTQ+ New Yorkers. The U.S. economy’s unequal growth ensures that LGBTQ+ workers earn less than their heterosexual counterparts, and through this gap, inequality creates insecurity in health outcomes, housing, and access to healthy food. Creating a means by which LGBTQ+ New Yorkers control their economic destinies serves to uplift and protect the LGBTQ+ community, knowledge, and wealth.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship period, Rafael:

  • Assisted one of the only media groups led by black and transgender individuals in securing a commercial space in Brooklyn, NY
  • Advised a robust Mutual Aid program led by a trailblazing Latinx and Queer led the organization in Queens
  • Served over 20 organizations serving over 800 people as General Counsel on issues ranging from tax advice, cooperative governance, cooperative restructuring, and insurance issues
  • Served both new and prominent LGBTQ+ organizations as they have navigated the difficulties of service during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Served a nascent cooperative of musicians and technologists who will redistribute wealth to artists who are traditionally underpaid and exploited

Next Steps

Rafael continues to work at the Community and Economic Development Clinic as a staff attorney. In this role, they continue serving their clients but also disseminate the information so that new organizations and groups can build wealth and power independent of attorneys.

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