For the first time in New Mexico history, volunteers from the law school’s clinical program met with members of the LGBTQ community to provide legal assistance on specific issues.
In New Mexico, the LGBTQ community has made strides on their mission towards full equality with the recent legalization of same sex marriage. However, there are still challenges the community has to overcome, said John Flores, program coordinator for EQNM.
“The LGBTQ community faces a lot of discrimination in their daily lives and a lot of those cases end up being legal issues,” Flores said on Saturday. “We are constantly getting calls when folks have legal questions. We don’t have any attorneys on staff, we do more public education and advocacy. Today’s event is a much needed service for our community.”
The UNM Law School Clinical Services is one of the largest legal aid services in New Mexico, said Sarah Steadman, visiting professor at the School of Law. Saturday’s inaugural service day has been long in the making. Over the past few years, there has been a culmination of law students and professors who worked in providing a legal service to the LGBTQ community, Steadman said.
“The students here today are all very invested in being of service to populations who would otherwise not have access to legal services and who are disadvantaged and who may have a history of being disenfranchised,” Steadman said.
The law students and professors touched on many common legal issues like wills, powers of attorney, divorce, custody questions and advanced health care directives. For the LGBTQ community, these common legal questions can be uncomfortable to talk about, Steadman said.
“There are barriers to accessing legal services for the LGBTQ community. They are worried about facing stigma and bias and so don’t know, historically, whether legal services are going to welcome them,” Steadman said.
During the service day, transgender issues like legal name changes became a specific focus for the group of law students. In preparing for the event, students and faculty involved attended an educational training, given by the Transgender Resource Center, on how to approach and address transgender individuals regarding legal matters.
Law student Ramon Maestas said the legal process for these individuals to change names can be very delicate as well as challenging. The reactions of the majority of mainstream citizens to the transgender community can deter them from seeking legal assistance, he said. The collaboration between the UNM Clinical Law Program and EQNM provides a comfortable environment where these individuals can receive the assistance they seek, he said.
“It can be embarrassing for a transgender person to go anywhere and look like what society perceives as male, and have what society perceives as a female name. We want to help minimize that sort of thing by providing services like the one today and making the process easier,” Maestas said.
Both organizations would like to see this collaboration established as a regular event to better help the LGBTQ community overall, Flores said.
“These wonderful law students and professors are really making a huge contribution to our community,” Flores said. “Their work here today is very much appreciated and we hope they will return in the future to help those in the LGBTQ community who need legal assistance.”
Robert Salas is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @DailyLobo.