Legal group moves to Mazzoni Center
by Jen Colletta
Oct 22, 2009 | 2437 views | 24 24 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The only organization in the state to offer direct legal services to LGBT people announced this week that it is transferring its legal branch to the local LGBT health clinic.

Equality Advocates Pennsylvania’s legal department will now become a program of LGBT health clinic the Mazzoni Center.

“We feel confident that this is absolutely the right move to make to ensure the best interests of LGBT Pennsylvanians,” said Equality Advocates executive director Lynn Zeitlin.

Since 1996, Equality Advocates has offered legal assistance and representation to LGBT individuals on a range of more than 30 issues, such as child custody and employment discrimination. The organization’s legal clinic, which is staffed by law students from throughout the region who serve as the first responders to LGBT individuals who call the agency’s legal hotline for assistance, is the only student-run entity of its kind in the country that focuses on LGBT issues.

Zeitlin said all of these services will continue in the same format, just under different auspices.

The agency, which has recently been undergoing a restructuring, was looking to fall in line with other statewide LGBT equality organizations — most of whom do not have a legal arm — and to focus its efforts on education and policy work, Zeitlin said.

The organization still wanted the local LGBT community to have high-quality legal services, Zeitlin said, which is why the group entered talks with Mazzoni Center about the feasibility of that agency taking over the program.

“We searched to make sure that we were connecting with an organization that could commit itself to continuing the same level of service we’ve been delivering to be sure that nobody is unable to find legal services who needs them,” Zeitlin said. “We found this in Mazzoni, and I’m very, very pleased.”

Mazzoni executive director Nurit Shein noted that it is not uncommon for LGBT health centers to also operate legal programs, as is the case at Boston’s Fenway Community Health and Chicago’s Howard Brown.

“We know well that the physical and emotional health of those in the LGBT community is so often impacted by external factors resulting from societal prejudices and pressures,” Shein said. “Thus it is essential to the health and vitality of our community that we incorporate legal, as well as health, safeguards in place for the most vulnerable in our society.”

Dave Rumsey, director of communications at Mazzoni Center, said many of the agency’s clients come to them with questions about legal issues, such as name changes and tenant-landlord disputes and the organization refers them to Equality Advocates for assistance. Rumsey said that Mazzoni’s operating its own legal department will “mesh well” with the services it already provides and its own mission.

“There was already this collegial relationship between the two organizations. There’s a lot of overlap with our clients and those of Equality Advocates, and I think we’re going to find even more affinity as we move forward,” Rumsey said. “And going along with what we do at Mazzoni Center and with our tagline, part of what gives you a sense of wellbeing is the piece of mind you get from feeling secure in your rights and confident that someone’s out there on your behalf, protecting you and making sure that you get your due legal standing.”

Equality Advocates’ legal department has one paid employee, its legal director Amara Chaudhry, who will now become a Mazzoni Center employee. There are also several law students from Temple University and University of Pennsylvania who volunteer at the clinic, as well as numerous pro-bono local lawyers who handle the cases, all of whom will now work out of the Mazzoni Center.

“We’re just going to bring the whole infrastructure that’s already in place there over here,” Rumsey said. “It will work exactly the same way that it worked over at Equality Advocates, just with a change of address. And of course we’ll provide all the administrative and office support that Equality Advocates had been providing.”

Rumsey said the two organizations were still tying up loose ends, but he expected the move to be complete in the next few months.

Zeitlin said Equality Advocates’ legal department occupied about half of the organization’s physical space. She was unsure at this time if the release of the department would lead to more hirings at the organization.

Equality Advocates’ latest move comes shortly after the agency announced a slate of new board members, along with the creation of its new legislative agency, Equality Pennsylvania.

As a 501 (c)(4), Equality Pennsylvania will have more political lobbying power than Equality Advocates, whose lobbying abilities are limited by its tax-exempt 501 (c)(3) status.

“Equality Advocates [Pennsylvania] will continue to function as an education and outreach organization. It will work on giving educational seminars, being present at Pride events and educating people in Pennsylvania on LGBT-rights issues,” Zeitlin said. “Both [Equality Advocates and Equality Pennsylvania] will do advocacy in a sense, as they’re both advocating for change, although one is through an educational format and the other is through actual legislative work.”

Zeitlin said she was confident that the transfer of the legal services to Mazzoni Center is a positive step for both organizations.

“This is being done to ensure that the legal services continue to be delivered to LGBT folks. Mazzoni has the resources and the infrastructure to support these legal services going forward.”

Rumsey said the Mazzoni Center is eager to take on the department and carry on the work started by Equality Advocates.

“We’re really looking forward to this. We’re very pleased to be able to continue to provide this service that Equality Advocates has been providing so well for so long.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at jen@epgn.com.

Comments
(24)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
anonymous
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November 01, 2009
National because our problems are global.
Town Hall mtg?
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October 31, 2009
Great idea. Maybe a panel discussion? Folks could conference call in as well. Why national? We have serious local legal issues to contend with. EAP has recreated itself, new Board and ED. They've made their priority statewide. Mazzoni has systematically abandoned its main mission, that is how organizations fail and also become a monopoly, I couldn't think of a better monopolist. My main issues are cultural competency, monopoly, corruption, greed, mistrust. Those are valid experiences and I hope others will express theirs.
anonymous
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October 31, 2009
I would love to but think bigger. Our community reaches far beyond Phila. We should try to find a way to reach gay members in the legal profession across the nation.
Meeting to discuss
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October 31, 2009
Hi All,

I spoke very harshly about Mazzoni below, IHateMazzoni, as an ex employee. I've seen it first hand as an employee, client for health care and now as a community member. I am not afraid to speak truth to power!! This deal is not right! Read between the lines.

Mazzoni and EAP need to explain this move. We need to make sure that both organizations, and others are accountable.

I think we as a community should hold a forum about LGBTQ services in Philadelphia, with a focus on quality and the state of lGBTQ legal services.

If you are interested in creating a public forum to speak truth to power, let me know.
anonymous
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October 30, 2009
And if they don't who will?

I have a friend who has had a rough time with homophobic forces in court - LAMBDA, Human Rights Campaign and other known organizations that were approached all had no real suggestion for help. It is sad to know that we as individuals will march in the streets for the equal right to marry but there is no legal organization by gays for gays that will back us up. An organization of lawyers to go to bat against the marriage issue and all the additional legal challenges we find so many members of our community involved in.

I don't have an answer, this is more of a plea to those of you in the legal profession to come together to help. I know there are many gay lawyers out there. Why are you so afraid to come forward to help us?
LGBTRIGHTSNOW
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October 30, 2009
Let's get back to the point. What is the future of legal representation for LGBT people here in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania? Is Equality Advocates really going to have much of an impact statewide with their advocacy work? Will a health agency make a significant legal impact for LGBT people?
beautyqueen411
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October 30, 2009
I'm a consumer, and have gone to Mazzoni clinic, Lax Center, Colors. Everyone knows Mazzoni's services and staff are a cut above the rest. Folks need to stop blaming them for the drama and scandals that take place in our own communities. If people would start acting right and take accountability for actions - we would be in a better place. It's too easy to blame Mazzoni. As a black, trans woman, I have been treated better there than in my own "community" organizations. Their staff have always been respectful and very professional. I've used AIDS Law Project (they're great), but hoping Mazzoni will be an extra help for me and other girls that need some assistance.
jackp
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October 30, 2009
hey phillyboi, i'm not a "disgruntled former employee," but i know a rotten egg when i smell one and something is rotten in the state of denmark. Nurit can be accused of a lot of things, but Integrity isn't one of them!
PhillyBoi
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October 30, 2009
I hate when disgruntled former employees use forums like this to redirect their personal grievances. There have been other articles about Mazzoni Center on pgn - why did it take them so long to voice their concerns (they did work for mazzoni for 5 years now?)...hmm. Say what you want about Mazzoni, but Nurit pulled the organization out of a situation where the previous ED lied, cheated, and stole. They can be accused of many things, but Nurit leads with integrity.
anonymous
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October 30, 2009
5 don't know if the Mazzoni Center is the right place or not. If not then were would a LGBTQ person go for fair representation if they have a serious legal problem? The important issue here is that we as a community have no legal organization that is truly willing to help LGBTQ individuals get equal rights in a court of law if needed.
I HATE MAZZONI
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October 30, 2009
This is a terrible idea. I used to work at Mazzoni Center for 5 years. Mazzoni Center lies, cheats and steals from our communities. They do not provide quality services, especially to LGBTQ people of color (POC) that will likely need these legal services.

They will continue cater to certain types clientele (non-POC) as usual while leaving their marginalized POC clients to be used for numbers and never served fairly or with quality.

This is definitely not a part of Mazzoni's mission, to provide health and wellness. Its Board is violating its mission by allowing itself to be diverted from its main purpose.

As a POC, I will never utilize any of Mazzoni Center's services. I used to work there. I saw from the inside and now the outside how corrupt and biased their service provision can be. Their staff are poorly trained, given little supervision or guidance let alone a sense of empathy for its clients.

Instead it's majority non-POC staff tend to see their clients as just numbers to inflate their grant applications (lie, fudge #s) and have disdain for these folks that come from lower socioeconomic levels and are in need of support and advocacy.

The worst part is that Mazzoni takes almost all of the funding in the LGBTQ Service Provider budget for Philadelphia. Nurit is evil, she takes over other organizations so that she can dominate its sector leaving the organizations that actually do good work without funding. Karma is a B and her retribution is coming.

Why are you trying to offer legal services?
josephusedtothink
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October 29, 2009
Mazzoni center is not a good place for these legal services. They will not expand or flourish there, unless the charge $$ for the service and this becomes another one of their boutique services. Look at their ad for the clinic, get laser treatments? Really? that's the most important health service for our community? Legal services at Mazzoni. For what, let me sue my doctor when my botox doesnt' work?! What a joke.
anonymous
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October 24, 2009
Does anyone know of an organization that does provide "leadership on LGBT legal services"? I have been looking for years now and I can not find any legal organization or attorney who actually seek LGBT client's. LAMBA and Human Rights Campaign did not even have a good suggestion for representation.

I find it appalling that with so many members of our community in the legal profession, we can still find ourselves discriminated against by our legal system.

Are gay and lesbian lawyers and LGBT equality organizations so focused on advancing their own careers that they are afraid of standing up for members of their own community. Are they that afraid of the homophobia that runs rampant through our legal system? Could they be that weak or are they just selfish?

Regardless, it is their loss. When they look back on their careers and see that they have a nice bank account but have missed out on so many opportunities to make a difference, they will have regret.

If I am wrong and have missed something, and there is a legal organization or attorney who really is willing to o to bat for LGBT legal issues please post info here.
Lost my support
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October 23, 2009
To Check The Facts:

You've totally missed the point. Mazzoni is a health agency. It provides people with health services. Fenway and Howard Brown provide minor, routine legal aid to assist them in the delivery of their health services. They do not do impact litigation.

Equality Advocate Pennsylvania's legal department has disintegrated over the last 1-2 years. It used to have 3-5 full-time attorneys, in addition to interns, doing a variety of cutting-edge legal work across Pennsylvania. The work that the Legal Department now does, while very much needed, is more routine, predominantly because there is only one attorney now on staff.

By sending the legal department to Mazzoni, EAP has ensured: 1) that it will no longer do ANY type of large-scale, big-picture litigation; 2) that it will only be focused on Philadelphia/Philadelphia area cases and not the rest of PA; and 3) as Worst Idea Ever wrote, that it will never be a leader in legal services, merely a provider.

Worst Idea Ever
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October 23, 2009
To Check the Facts: Assuming what you say is true, that all staffing and services will be identical, i think we still have a problem. This program has not taken on new clients in months. I thought the position was no longer staffed. If this is what we can expect, more of the same = nothing by way of actual services, I think the community should "pass" on this. One staff person does make LEADERSHIP on legal services. We need leadership on LGBT legal services, in addition to staff people and Mazzoni Center is NOT a legal services LEADER. This program does not belong there.
LegalAccessForAllPA
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October 23, 2009
Is this a case of revisionist history by the power elite or what?

This discriminatory cheery picking is ON THE RECORD! We are talking about articles in the PGN archives about meetings regarding complaints from trans persons about this organization, but now folks are trying to pretend it never happened?

Come on now, let's get real here!

I can think of at least 2 documented cases personally, of trans folks being turned away because they couldn't afford a retainer.

What are people afraid of, that you'll actually have appropriate oversight now from a supposed outside agency? As far as I can tell, this is the best thing that could've happened for the community; maybe not for the select few who are more interested in cashing in on our lack of rights, sure. But for the majority, this is sure to be a welcome step in the right direction.

And if folks don't wish to hear the truth about how the community feels about your organization, then don't call yourself a community org, just open up a private practice and leave it at that.

Have a nice day!
check the facts
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October 23, 2009
to worstideaever and lostmy suppport: mazzoni center is bringing the entire legal services department (one employee plus Temple Law and Penn Law interns) under its roof. The legal work will continue to be done by the same person(s) who were doing it at EAP, and to the same extent...just at another address.

What legal services Howard Brown and Fenway provide at their organizations is beside the point. The point HERE is that there is a "model" out there for a health agency to also offer legal aid. Repeat: the legal services department of mazzoni will be nearly identical to the legal services department at EAP. Same attorney, same pool of legal interns, same types of cases. Period.
Lost my support
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October 23, 2009
LegalAccessForAllPA, you have your facts wrong.

Correction is correct: EAP NEVER charged for ANY services. You may be thinking of the onerous fees that trans folks have to pay for name changes, for court filing fees and publication costs. These are court-imposed fees. In fact, EAP did what it could to LOWER those fees by getting certain things (like publication in name change cases) waived.

LegalAccessForAllPA
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October 22, 2009
Correction is flat out LYING on this one.

For the public: Talk to the numerous trans folks who were denied assistance because of various reasons, including the retainer fees issue between 2002 - 2008.

correction
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October 22, 2009
Equality Advocates never charged for its services. Ever. Clients were responsible only for filing fees that could not be waived, which will be true regardless of where the legal clinic is housed.

Think what you want about this move, but at least have your facts straight.