How to Get Legal Help for LGBT People

If you or someone you know needs legal help with an issue related to their LGBT identity--for example, hate crimes, same-sex partner benefits, same-sex marriage, immigration, employment or housing discrimination, or legal recognition as a male or female--it is important to find a sympathetic attorney who is skilled in the particular area of law in question. Here are some ways to become knowledgeable about the legal system and options available to LGBT people.


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    Define your legal problem. Different legal issues require different kinds of help. For example, if you're looking to make a change to a discriminatory law, you need to find an organization willing to lobby the appropriate lawmakers, or if an existing law is being interpreted unfairly, to bring a test case to court. If your legal trouble involves a crime--for example, assault motivated by sexuality or gender identity--you might be looking for a sympathetic organization's support in dealing with the police. If you're dealing with civil or administrative issues like housing discrimination, employment discrimination, or benefits, then you need to find the appropriate lawyer for that area.
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    Approach an organization or group of lawyers that specializes in LGBT rights or LGBT clients. Search online for a local organization, or contact someone at a national organization who might be able to point you in the right direction. Some examples in the United States include Lambda Legal's Help Desks, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the LGBT Bar Association Directory of LGBT Law Partners and LGBT-Owned Firms. These organizations can help you with researching the existing law on your issue, as well as finding legal representation.
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    Research the existing law and make a plan of action. Before you take action, decide how best to approach your problem. How much time and energy do you have to commit to this? Are you willing to go to court? Often, a problem can be solved at an administrative level rather than waging a full-on legal challenge. If a law is in place to protect you, but a low-level official is ignorant of the law or willingly violates it, you can get recourse without ever going to court. Ask a law librarian or public library reference librarian for help in researching the law and decide where to go from there.
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    If you need legal representation, choose a lawyer who is excellent in the area in question. Just because a lawyer is sympathetic to LGBT issues doesn't mean that he or she is an expert in the field. Look online for references to the lawyer you're considering, check credentials and ask around. For example, if you're dealing with a transphobic sexual assault, a lawyer whose expertise is same-sex marriage litigation can't necessarily help you. It may be better to hire a sympathetic attorney with limited LGBT experience but great success in the area of law you need help with.


  • If you live in a country with laws against sodomy or "gross indecency," be careful about who you contact. Don't divulge more information than is necessary. If you talk about your sexuality online, be very cautious and keep in mind that IP addresses can be traced.

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Categories: Retaining a Lawyer | LGBT