Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Equality Ohio Opens Free LGBTQ Legal Aid Clinic

Image of the rainbow LGBT pride flag in front of a silhouette of two people (DusanManic/iStock)

A new virtual legal clinic provides free resources to Ohio’s LGBTQ community.

Image of the rainbow LGBT pride flag in front of a silhouette of two people (DusanManic/iStock)

A new virtual legal clinic provides free resources to Ohio’s LGBTQ community.

Phones seem to be ringing constantly at Ohio’s first legal aid clinic offering free services to members of the LGBTQ community.

The nonprofit advocacy group Equality Ohio has opened its virtual legal clinic after spending a year researching other U.S. clinics to find out how they operate.

After researching model clinics across the country, assessing resources in Ohio, and securing a federal grant from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), the virtual legal clinic was up and running in March. Once the word got out, the phones were ringing.

“We surveyed members of the LGBTQ community across the state of Ohio in order to determine their legal needs and why they weren’t being met with the resources currently available,” said Maya Simek, managing legal director of the clinic. “We were trying to be very conscious about not duplicating services that were already in the community.”

They found needs for all sorts of legal services — from family law, adoptions and divorce to discrimination and identity theft. In response, Equality Ohio now has one attorney based in Cuyahoga County and another in Franklin County to provide direct representation. They are looking for attorneys statewide who can pitch in and help as part of their Attorney Referral Network.

“People were very interested in having a list of attorneys across Ohio that were LGBTQ- sensitive so they could find someone safe within their home community,” Simek said.

Equality Ohio has been around since 2005 advocating for LGBTQ rights.

“The goal has always been to connect LGBTQ people and help them navigate the patchwork of laws in place,” said Alana Jochum, Equality Ohio’s executive director. “We want to see how we can set LGBTQ people up for success.”

Since 2017, the Ohio Supreme Court’s Judicial College has offered 22 sessions on LGBTQ issues.
Highlighted courses include:

  • Enhancing Justice, Reducing Bias-Judges
  • Transgender Litigants in the Courtroom-Judges
  • Today’s “Genderation” of Youth: Considerations to the Judicial Approach to Gender Diverse & Transgender Children and Adolescents-Judges
  • Cultural Sensitivity-Magistrates
  • LGBTQ-Plus: What Professionals Need (And Don’t Need) to Know!-Court Personnel
  • Gender Non-Conforming Youth-Guardians Ad Litem.

Equality Ohio is the second U.S. law clinic focusing on a statewide LGBTQ community, and the only statewide LGBTQ-focused organization with both a virtual intake model and multiple brick-and-mortar locations.

The Ohioans found LGBTQ-focused legal clinics at several law schools, bar associations and health-service organizations across the country. However, Jochum said, “We were only able to find one other free-standing model at an independent organization: FreeState Justice” in Baltimore. Equality Ohio journeyed to Maryland to visit and study what she called “the first statewide model at a free-standing organization couched in an equality organization.”

If you are interested in the free legal clinic or a Know Your Rights presentation, you can call 1.855.LGBT.LAW or fill out a submission intake form. Lawyers who wish to offer their services can join the clinic’s legal network and receive free CLE credits for pro bono services provided.