Equality Advocates names new director

After a nearly six-month search, LGBT legal organization Equality Advocates Pennsylvania has chosen its new leader.

The organization announced today that Lynn Zeitlin, a local corporate and real-estate lawyer, will take over as executive director of the organization effective Feb. 9.

Zeitlin, who served on the Equality Advocates board several years ago, currently works in the real-estate department at Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP.

Equality Advocates’ previous executive director, Stacey Sobel, who took over from founding executive director Andrew Park in 2001, stepped down in August for personal reasons, and interim executive director Pam Leland has headed the group since then.

“The board has a unique opportunity to expand on the success of our two previous executive directors,” said Doug Metcalfe, board spokesperson. “Lynn’s commitment to our mission of direct legal services, policy reform and education, her leadership style, her extensive professional experience and her knowledge of Pennsylvania’s political, donor and advocacy landscape positions the organization not only to continue our work across Pennsylvania on behalf of the LGBT community, but expand it.”

Zeitlin, who is openly gay, graduated from the former Beaver College in 1963 and received her law degree from Villanova University in 1978.

Zeitlin has lent her talents to numerous local organizations, such as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Anti-Defamation League, the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, the Philadelphia Bar Association and Liberty City Democratic Club, and served as a board member at Equality Forum.

“We are thrilled to have someone of Lynn’s caliber and experience,” said EAP board president Virginia Gutierrez. “Lynn brings a wealth of experience, a visionary leadership style and a passion for equal rights. The board is looking forward to partnering with Lynn to move the organization forward.”

Zeitlin said she was initially drawn to Equality Advocates because of its “triple mission of direct legal services, education and policy reform.”

She said her firm does a lot of pro-bono work, which has allowed her to see firsthand the struggles of many city residents, including those in the LGBT community.

“As an attorney, I’m very aware of the need for legal services for people who cannot afford to pay legal fees, and certainly in the LGBT community there are many people who need services and have nowhere to go to hire a lawyer,” she said. “Hopefully they know to call Equality Advocates to get the help that they need.”

Zeitlin noted that education is an integral component in bringing about viable policy reform in Pennsylvania. She said she’s always surprised to learn that many LGBT Pennsylvanians aren’t aware that — excluding a handful of jurisdictions such as Philadelphia — it’s legal to fire someone in the state simply for being gay.

“A lot of times that comes as a complete shock to a lot of people, and they should be aware of the need to correct that by legislation and help Equality Advocates move toward that goal,” she said. “Policy reform has to be a grassroots effort and we need to identify affinity groups who share our mission of establishing full equality under the law for all LGBT people and their families, children and their extended families. This is a great chance to make a huge difference, particularly in light of what we’re seeing on a national level, which is, from my perspective, a very exciting, energized group of people after Proposition 8 passed in California who see the movement toward full equality and full rights for LGBT people as the 21st-century civil-rights movement.”

Zeitlin said that in the coming months, she will work with LGBT community leaders and state legislators to bolster support for a statewide nondiscrimination bill and the re-inclusion of the LGBT community into the state’s hate-crimes law. Zeitlin said she will also strive to fend off efforts to pass an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution banning same-sex marriage.

“The Pennsylvania state legislature has a very strong rightward bend, and it’s very difficult to get legislation passed that helps with any opening-up or liberalization of rights,” Zeitlin said. “However, I think things are changing and I think that’s not an excuse to fail to make the effort to get our views known. I’m a firm believer that people will listen to you if you make a case that is sensible and fair. I think a lot of people in the straight world will be at least accepting of the concept that fairness includes employment rights, includes housing rights, includes education rights for everyone.”

Zeitlin encouraged members of the local LGBT community to contact Equality Advocates if they need assistance and urged those who want to lend their time or services to the mission of Equality Advocates to do so.

“We’re going to try and make a real effort to expand our volunteer base and our donor base, so we need all the help we can get across the state of Pennsylvania to accomplish our goals.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].