Statewide LGBTQ summit brings legal aid and human services providers together

Tony Karrat at a podium opening the LGBTQ Summit.

Tony Karrat, executive director of the Legal Aid Service of Broward County, opened the LGBTQ Summit Oct. 2.

More than 200 legal aid attorneys, human services providers and other advocates gathered at the Hilton Marina Ft. Lauderdale Oct. 2-3 for a first-of-its-kind statewide LGBTQ Summit sponsored by The Florida Bar Foundation and organized by Legal Aid Service of Broward County and Legal Services of North Florida (LSNF).

“As legal services providers we recognize that LGBTQ individuals are as much a part of our client population as anyone else we serve,” said Leslie Powell-Boudreaux, executive director of Legal Services of North Florida. The goal of the summit is to make sure we’re addressing the needs of our LGBTQ neighbors and ensure that we’re serving our entire communities in the best ways possible. The summit will help us build a more collaborative approach with our LGBTQ service providers.”

Among the summit participants was David Baker-Hargrove, president, co-CEO and co-founder of Two Spirit Health Services Inc. in Orlando, Central Florida’s LGBTQ health center and one of the largest transgender health clinics in the United States.

“Especially for LGBTQ people who are transgender or are members of communities of color, there are a lot of disparities that exist, both from an economic perspective and from an access perspective,” Baker-Hargrove said, “so I think it’s really incumbent on all of us as professional organizations that care about the health and welfare of our LGBTQ community to become knowledge-based and to disseminate that knowledge amongst our peers. Hopefully that knowledge will help people increase access and increase referrals so that people will get the services they need.”

Two Spirit Health Services already had a relationship with local legal aid providers Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida and the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association prior to the summit.

“I do try to stay connected, because we do get a lot of requests for legal services at the clinic,” Baker-Hargrove said. “If the goal [of the summit] is to broaden the knowledge base of attorneys in general, I think that’s great, especially throughout the legal aid organizations. It will increase referrals so clients will get the services they need.”

About half the participants in the summit were from legal aid programs all over the state, while the other half were from a broad array of organizations including those devoted to LGBTQ advocacy or services, as well as local police departments, public schools, and other non-legal agencies. Topics included employment law and same-sex spouse or partner benefits; immigration issues affecting LGBTQ youth and adults; the legal aid and pro bono response to the Pulse tragedy in Orlando; discrimination; state and national law; and issues affecting LGBTQ seniors, youth, veterans and people of color.

Sean Rowley, advocacy director for landlord/tenant issues at Legal Services of Greater Miami (LSGMI), said his organization elevated LGBTQ issues to its list of priorities in 2016. LSGMI has begun working on name changes for transgender individuals, as well as LGBTQ housing discrimination cases. About two years ago the organization had its first LGBTQ cultural competency training for staff.

“I think that training was incredibly important for our program in terms of just getting the basic concepts and the basic ideas down and how to treat people,” Rowley said. “It’s really great to see this happening statewide for the first time because I think it made a huge difference in our office, and I think statewide it will make a big difference. I think for a long time the thought among public interest attorneys was that LGBT issues would be for LGBT-specific organizations like Lambda Legal. And they do more of the impact work but I’m sure they don’t have the resources to do all the direct client services like name changes and basic access to health care.”

Misty Eyez at at a podium presenting for “LGBTQ 101”

Misty Eyez of SunServe was one of the presenters for “LGBTQ 101,” a cultural competency session that was the opening plenary for the LGBTQ Summit.

The summit opened with an interactive “LGBTQ 101” cultural competency session presented by Misty Eyez and Bryan Wilson of SunServe, a South Florida nonprofit that provides life assistance and professional mental health services focused on economically disadvantaged, marginalized LGBTQ youth and senior adults.

Wilson and Eyez reviewed concepts such as gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation and the acceptable, affirming terms and appropriate pronouns for people at different points of the spectrum for each. They also explained biological terms such as intersex, in which an individual’s sex characteristics are neither clearly male nor female, and Klinefelter syndrome, in which a male has one extra X chromosome.

Ashley Mayfaire of TransSocial Inc., a South Florida transgender-led nonprofit organization that assists people with name and gender marker changes, said the summit has led to connections with legal aid and other organizations working on common issues. Specifically, Mayfaire pointed to
an online resource being developed by Southern Legal Counsel and the Florida Justice Technology Center to guide self-represented litigants through the name change process. Mayfaire is interested in working with the two organizations to bring Miami-Dade and Broward counties on board as the system is rolled out to all 67 Florida counties.

“We were impressed by the turnout and how engaged everyone is,” Mayfaire said. “To have this welcoming space with all these allies is really inspiring.”

Hayley Gorenberg, deputy director and general counsel of Lambda Legal, the largest national nonprofit organization that advocates and litigates on behalf of LGBTQ and HIV-positive people, gave the summit keynote.

Hayley Gorenberg at a podium at the LGBTQ Summit

Hayley Gorenberg, deputy director and general counsel of Lambda Legal, gave the keynote address at the LGBTQ Summit.

“We are in an all-hands-on-deck situation right now in this country,” Gorenberg said, “and I am standing in a room full of very capable hands. There is a lot of need, and you are some of the best-equipped people to address it.”

Cultural competency in all realms, including understanding LGBTQ+ culture, can be “life-changing and life-saving” for clients, she said.

“If you don’t think that many trans people avoid hospitals and doctors and lawyers, too, when they are misgendered and gawked at and maltreated, then you don’t know humanity, and I know that legal aid and legal services practitioners know humanity. You can inject your cultural competency into your day job, changing and saving lives that way.”

Gorenberg also encouraged legal aid organizations to “leverage pro bono power” to spread their reach further.

“A lesson from every civil rights movement is that it’s never over,” she said.

The summit concluded with breakout sessions in which legal aid and other service providers met by geographic regions within Florida to discuss how they could partner to better meet the needs of the LGBTQ community.

Tony Karrat, executive director of Legal Aid Service of Broward County, which hosted the summit along with LSNF and whose staff handled most of the logistics, said what was important to him was to see legal aid programs and social service organizations begin working together to find and implement solutions.

“It’s been great to get these exceptional presenters to guide us on what the issues are and how to address those issues and to see the people here take that back to their communities and put that knowledge into effect,” Karrat said.

The LGBTQ Summit was supported by a $143,000 grant from The Florida Bar Foundation through funding from a national settlement reached by the U.S. Department of Justice and multiple states with Bank of America.

“I think this was very generous of the funders who put this together,” Baker-Hargrove said. “It was very nicely done.”