Free Gay, Trans Law Clinic Finds New Home

A law clinic that offers free legal advice to low income gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns has undergone a name and location change.

As of June 10, the Rainbow Law Center (formerly known as the Free LGBT Law Clinic) will open its doors at the Utah AIDS Foundation, 1408 South 1100 E. The year-old foundation is sponsored by the Utah Pride Center, the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law Pro Bono Initiative, and OutLaws, a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and allied law students at the school.

The clinic, which is staffed by roughly 15 volunteer lawyers and law students, began during a discussion among members of Equality Utah’s legal panel, said Dani Hawkes, who runs the clinic along with law student Alison Satterlee.

“We were thinking [the clinic] was something needed, but it wasn’t something under what Equality Utah does,” said Hawkes.

Until recently, the free law clinic operated out of one of the law school’s buildings. But the location often proved difficult to access, said Hawkes, because of limited parking and the fact that the building often got locked halfway through clinic hours. Additionally, she said clients often got confused over which building to enter.

“I think people had a hard time or were intimidated finding it,” she said.

Although the law clinic has several attorneys working for them, Satterlee stressed that it cannot provide a pro bono lawyer — one who works for free — for any case. Rather, she said the clinic can give advice and offer basic assistance on a number of issues pertaining to family, estate planning and employment law. These things, she noted, can include drawing up power of attorney documents for same-sex partners — documents which designate who will act on an individual’s behalf if he or she is unable to do so. Attorneys can also assist with setting up health care directives and can help people who are being sued write up responses to complaints filed.

But basically, Satterlee continued, the Rainbow Law Center is a “stop-gap” group that advises people on where to go to settle such things as custody disputes, unmarried couples’ disputes over titles to homes or cars, and questions pertaining to employment and housing discrimination.

“We’ll sit with [clients] for up to two hours at a time and try to get them pointed in the right direction for what they need,” said Satterlee.

The clinic can be especially helpful when it comes to matters of employment discrimination, Hawkes noted.

“Even though a lot of gay people don’t think they’re protected, they are,” she said, referring to gay and transgender-inclusive job discrimination ordinances, which have passed in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Park City, Logan and West Valley City. She also noted that some people fired or evicted for their sexuality may also be the victims of such things as sex or racial discrimination, which Utah law prohibits.

But even though municipal ordinances may protect some gay and transgender Utahns, Hawkes said that they may need a lawyer’s help to learn how to go about getting a discriminating landlord or employer fined.

The law clinic, Satterlee continued, also has connections with a number of attorneys throughout the state who specialize in areas that the clinic doesn’t cover but which effect gay and transgender people, such as immigration law.

So far, Satterlee said the clinic has seen people needing help on a number of issues, including custody battles between gay people and their straight ex-spouses, and lesbian couples seeking to put legal protections in place before they have babies. Satterlee encouraged people in either of these circumstances to come in to ask questions.

“I think if we can get people to understand what resources are out there we can help protect our community,” added Hawkes.

“Anything legal can be intimidating but it’s important. It’s no reason you shouldn’t protect yourself,” Satterlee agreed.

The Rainbow Law Clinic is open on the second Thursday of every month from 6–8 p.m. Clients are seen on a first come, first-served basis. Clients from all Utah locations are welcome. For more information visit facebook.com/rainbowlawutah.

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