by Tyler Mangrum
– The Capitol Hill Times –
DOMA may be a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of legal struggles for the LGBT community on Capitol Hill.
“Marriage has been one of the most confusing legal questions that people have had, but it’s certainly not the only issue that our community faces, and we’re still catching up,” said Denise Diskin, a lawyer who is currently the Chair of QLaw Foundation’s LGBT Legal Clinic Committee. “Marriage is only a small part of the broader legal challenges the community faces.”
Since 2009, Diskin and her colleagues have been providing free legal counsel to anyone in need of it at the QLaw Foundation’s LGBT Legal Clinic at the Seattle Counseling Service’s location on Pine Street and Melrose Avenue. Since its creation, the LGBT Clinic has become one of the most notable focal points of community-driven LGBT assistance in the city.
The clinic, which operates on the third Thursday of every month from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., offers a 30-minute legal counseling session to help quell any concerns that LGBT people may have, ranging from workplace discrimination to property ownership when a partner has passed on, and everything in between. The intent, in Diskin’s words, is to help “bridge the gap between the LGBT community and the legal resources available to them.”
“One client came to us very fearful about the state of his entire life,” Diskin said. “His long term partner had passed away and they had shared a mobile home together. Everything was done in the partner’s name, and as their families weren’t very supportive of them, he was afraid that he was going to lose his home as well as partner. And this was just such a relief to him as somebody who, because of his lifestyle, his long-term partnership, and the generation he was a part of, he had never been out, so he was very nervous about discussing it. But we were able to advise him with the ultimately straight forward legal question of whether he could stay in the mobile home, and we could say, ‘Yes, absolutely and be a safe place for him to go.’”
In addition to aiding gay and lesbian couples in issues like this, the clinic has also made great strides for people in the transgender community, helping to leverage the legal resources available for transgender and trans-identifying people to give them the legal voice they need.
“One youth who was trans-identified came to us with their parents and was having trouble accessing the gender appropriate bathroom,” Diskin said. “The parents had really been working to advocate for the child’s rights, and this was when the Washington Law Against Discrimination was still new to everybody, and the schools were still trying to figure out what it meant. This school was really not giving the parents the right legal interpretation and was telling the student to use the other bathroom. We were both able to say that this student was absolutely entitled to use the gender appropriate bathroom and partner with another legal organization to do longer-term representation.”
As a result of this and other accomplishments, the Ingersoll Gender Center gave the LGBT Legal Clinic an award for its service to the trans community in 2011, saying that the clinic has already established itself as one of the best assets for transgendered people in Seattle and the entire state.
“The LGBT Legal Clinic is an incredibly important resource for the transgender community,” said Marsha Botzer, founder and co-president of the Ingersoll Gender Center. “It is important to have a place where they know they will be treated with understanding and respect. These clinics have been very successful and provided many members of our community with support as they move forward with gender transition. The clinics have also raised awareness in our community of the legal protections provided by the Washington Law Against Discrimination and how we can assert those rights.”
Now, with approximately 70 lawyers volunteering their time and over 400 people assisted by the clinic, the Washington State Bar Association is honoring the center with the Pro Bono Award.
“I think that it’s a great honor for the Legal Clinic to be recognized by the WSBA,” Diskin said. “I really see it as a demonstration of the WSBA that they believe in the work that we do and in the importance of legal stability for the LGBT community. We hope that it does bring attention to the work that we do and the service we offer to the community.”