When a veteran is discharged from the armed forces, they begin the transition to civilian life. However, the type of discharge received can have far-reaching consequences for veterans as the stigma of an “Other Than Honorable” discharge follows veterans throughout their lives and limits the federal benefits they can receive. Proskauer is actively involved in helping veterans upgrade their discharge status, when they have been unfairly denied benefits due to an improper classification.
In 2014, I had the privilege of representing two extraordinary young asylum seekers who had fled from Macedonia, where, because they are a gay couple, they had suffered extreme homophobic violence and sexual abuse at the hands of civilians and police officers. In 2021, I had the honor of helping them become U.S. citizens.
In reflecting on my clients’ seven-year journey to United States citizenship, I am reminded of how much has changed, but also how much has unfortunately remained the same and how far we have yet to go in the pursuit of LGBTQ human rights both at home and abroad.
The first of my two Macedonian clients arrived in the U.S. in 2012, and the second client joined him here in May 2013, just one month before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013). In Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), through which Congress had sought to define “marriage” and “spouse” in more than 1,000 federal laws and federal regulations in a way that excluded same-sex spouses, thereby depriving them of the benefits that would come with federal recognition of their marriages and imposing “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter same-sex marriages.” Id. at 770. The Supreme Court found that DOMA deprived gay and lesbian married couples of equal liberty under the Fifth Amendment because it interfered with the equal dignity of marriages under State laws recognizing marriage between same-sex spouses.
Recent studies show a great disparity in the number of U.S. patents issued to women and people of color. A 2020 report published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) found that, despite making up more than half of the U.S. population, women only represent 12.8% of United States inventor-patentees. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported in 2016 that less than 8% of issued patents named women as the primary inventor. In 2018, researchers at Yale University found after examining the prosecution and maintenance histories of approximately 2.7 million U.S. patent applications that women patent applicants have less favorable outcomes than men – women’s patent applications are more likely to be rejected than those of men, and those rejections are less likely to be appealed. While the gender gap faced by women inventors is decreasing gradually, at the current rate it will take more than 100 years to reach gender parity in the U.S patenting process.
When navigating routine experiences such as applying for jobs, traveling, accessing healthcare, and interacting with government agencies, many of us are able to present our identification documents or write down our legal names without a second thought. But for transgender individuals navigating these same spaces, having to use a legal name that is inconsistent with their gender identity often translates into a heightened risk of discrimination, harassment, and violence. That such a fundamental part of one’s identity — a person’s name — can expose one to bigotry or physical harm is an injustice that is unfortunately far too common in transgender communities.
In fact, in a 2015 survey of transgender Americans, nearly one-third of respondents reported being “verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave a location or establishment, or assaulted or attacked” as a result of showing a government-issued ID with a name or gender marker that did not match their gender expression. For many transgender individuals, the opportunity to legally change their legal name not only affirms their identity but also increases their safety. Yet many of those who want legal name changes cannot access them because of the cost and the complications of navigating the court system.
This week we had the privilege of speaking with Michael Stanley, a professional community organizer with Manhattan Together and South Bronx Churches Sponsoring Committee (SBC), and Ray Lopez, the Director of Environmental Health Services of the Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service (LSA), on the topic of pro bono lawyering for social justice in collaboration with community organizers. Manhattan Together, SBC, and LSA are nonprofit organizations and members of Metro IAF, a network of multi-faith organizations that draw on the power of person-to-person organizing to transform communities and build the local power necessary to create change on local and national levels.
What is “media empathy” and what is the mission of the Media Empathy (ME) Foundation?
To us, “media empathy” means portraying people with mental illness in a compassionate way that recognizes their humanity and their struggles and makes them relatable, rather than vilifying them or treating them comically. This empathy is often missing in the narrative around mental health today. For example, while the media typically understands and depicts the challenges faced by cancer patients in a sympathetic and accurate manner, it often makes misrepresentations about what it is like to live with a mental illness.
Our mission is to advocate for a culture in which people can speak freely about mental health issues and can access supportive resources to help manage their illness. Despite many campaigns aiming to destigmatize mental health issues, portrayals of mentally ill individuals in the media remain problematic and social distancing hasn’t really improved since the 1950s. We seek to collaborate with those who create and shape media to change the narrative surrounding mental illness.
As a member of the professional services team, the non-legal side of the Firm, I have few reasons to ever enter a courthouse. Unlike my colleagues in our Litigation Department, my role at the Firm does not require me to observe hearings, converse with judges, or discuss the legal and administrative challenges that are pervasive in our court system. Yet, last week I found myself doing just that. Through a program called “Judge for a Day” organized by Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT), I had the unique opportunity to join the LIFT staff at the Kings County Family Court in downtown Brooklyn for a fully immersive court experience.
This post contains sensitive subject matter.
We sat down with Michael Narain, the founder of Out My Closet, to talk about the vital role this nonprofit organization plays in the lives of at-risk LGBTQ+ youth and how Proskauer’s pro bono collaboration has helped to advance the organization’s mission.
In your own words, what does Out My Closet do and why is this work important and impactful?
LGBTQ+ youth experience disproportionate levels of homelessness and mental health issues, and are more likely to suffer from substance abuse and sexual exploitation. Out My Closet is a nonprofit organization that attempts to combat those trends by offering resources such as clothing, counseling, and connectivity to LGBTQ+ youth. We provide direct social services that feature face-to-face connection such as clothing pop-up shops, as well as support through social media platforms that connect LGBTQ+ youth to each other and to our volunteers. Out My Closet is staffed entirely by volunteers, many of whom are in their 20s and 30s, LGBTQ+, of color, immigrants, and the first in their families to be college-educated. There’s a real power in seeing someone not much older than you who made it through – and in being helped by someone who can understand and relate to your personal experiences.