The Heart of LeGaL: A Look Inside Our Free LGBT Legal Clinic for Low-Income New Yorkers
by Emma Buzbee, LeGaL Foundation Intern
“LeGaL, operates several legal clinics throughout the metropolitan area, and the Tuesday Night Clinic in Manhattan is its heart.”
They wait outside the door and nervously tap their feet or reread the stacks of documents they brought along.. Jumping when their names are called, they rush eagerly into the room. They have come to a place where they can finally be heard… It’s another busy Tuesday night at the LGBT Community Center, and people have come in from all over New York City to speak with LeGaL’s volunteer lawyers.
The LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, also known as LeGaL, operates several legal clinics throughout the metropolitan area, and the Tuesday Night Clinic in Manhattan is its heart. Located at the LGBT Center on West 13th Street from 6–8pm, the Clinic serves a dozen or more individuals a week. The visitors are able to sit with volunteer attorneys for a free legal consultation. The attorneys listen to the situation, identity possible legal issues involved, advise on next steps, and take down information for referrals to LeGaL’s network of lawyers.
The Clinic highlights the important role that LeGaL plays in New York’s LGBT community: assisting individuals and identifying cases that have the potential to impact the wider community.
For example, one night, two women who had each been stopped by an ex-partner from seeing their non-biological children came to the Clinic. Their cases were both “post-Brooke B.” cases, meaning they were related to the landmark 2016 New York family law case in which LeGaL served as co-counsel to help Brooke, and parents like her, to have standing to seek custody and visitation of their children.
In addition to family law issues, many of the people who come to the Clinic are LGBT immigrants seeking asylum from persecution in their home countries. One woman from a Middle Eastern country had been forced into a different-sex marriage by her family. When her siblings discovered she had past relationships with women, they beat her and locked her in her house for months at a time. She escaped by faking a medical emergency and, when she was evacuated to another country for treatment, fled to New York and came to LeGaL’s Clinic a few days later. LeGaL is hoping to partner with a law firm to assist the woman in seeking asylum in the US and grant her the freedom, and safety she has longed for all her life.
At the end of their consultation, the clients leave the room slowly, turning around repeatedly to thank the volunteers or to clarify legal advice one final time. Sometimes they make an additional stop, pulling out a dollar and placing the bill gently in a donation tin by the door.
If you are interested in volunteering at our Tuesday night clinic or if you would like to be part of our attorney referral network, particularly if you have experience in family or immigration law, please visit the following link to learn more information: https://www.le-galhp.com/get-involved.
Emma Buzbee is an undergraduate at Columbia University studying political science and journalism. She is planning on attending law school to further her interests in social advocacy.