McKenna Raney-Gray of ACLU Mississippi began planning the LGBTQ Justice Project in August 2021, which led to the launch of free legal clinics for those facing issues that connect to their statuses in the LGBTQ community. The first in-person clinic will be June 28, 2022, at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, Miss., with more clinics happening every so often in the future. Photo courtesy ACLU

Affirmative Outreach: ACLU Mississippi Launches Free, In-Person LGBTQ+ Legal Clinics

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant A’keria C. Davenport danced through a crowd of cheering fans inside Duling Hall in Jackson, Miss., on Saturday, June 25, 2022. Attendees extended their arms, dollars in hand, to tip the performer and applauded as she hugged a child who excitedly approached her during her opening number.

Capital City Pride organized this event, the Unity Drag Show, as part of its month-long series of Pride Month observances. Throughout June, many Mississippians have gathered to celebrate and honor the state’s LGBTQ+ community.

Continuing this trend of support, ACLU Mississippi—a nonprofit organization that engages in civil-rights litigation, advocacy and education—is hosting a free legal clinic for LGBTQ+ individuals on Tuesday, June 28. The clinic will take place from noon to 4 p.m. at the Yeats Community Room in the Mississippi Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St., Jackson).

The clinics are part of the LGBTQ Justice Project, which ACLU Mississippi launched in March 2022. The first clinic took place virtually over Zoom due to COVID-19 concerns. Tuesday’s event will be the first in-person clinic session, with more planned every few months going forward. The LGBTQ Justice Project is also handling individual referrals between clinics.

“There is a strong need for direct representation for LGBTQ+ individuals in Mississippi, where it can be hard for them to find an attorney who will represent them,” LGTBQ Justice Project staff attorney McKenna Raney-Gray said. “We’re here to give them access to pro bono attorneys willing to meet with them that they can have confidence in.”

Pride Month 2022 in Mississippi has featured a number of parades, music festivals, drag brunches and other celebrations of queer identities. To further assist LGBTQ+ Mississippians, ACLU Mississippi has launched a series of free legal clinics for people within those communities who face issues that affect them based on gender or sexual orientation. Photo by Robin Rayne / The Associated Press

The LGBTQ Justice Project currently handles civil legal matters regarding name changes, birth-certificate corrections, civil rights, consumer law, housing, school and youth issues, employment discrimination matters and referral to LGBTQ-friendly private attorneys. The LGBTQ Justice Project does not handle criminal matters.

ACLU Mississippi will have signage on-site directing clients to the correct attorneys who handle specific types of cases. Before this and future clinics, visitors must register online in advance or at the registration desk at the clinic so ACLU Mississippi can direct them and help with paperwork for their type of case.

“We chose the museum because many LGBTQ+ people may not be comfortable or feel safe in places like courtrooms and churches where many legal procedures often take place,” Raney-Gray said.

“By holding the clinic at the museum, it ensures that people walking in won’t have to worry about people specifically knowing what they’re there for, so it affords privacy for them and doesn’t carry the kind of traumas some LGBTQ+ individuals may have with churches and courtrooms,” he added.

‘I Don’t Want People Siloed’ 

Raney-Gray began planning the LGBTQ Justice Project in August 2021, dedicating the first month to determining which attorneys in Mississippi did pro-bono work in LGBTQ+ spaces. She also worked to ensure that the project did not duplicate any existing work that other organizations were already conducting. ACLU Mississippi is working with organizations like the Mississippi Center for Justice that have existing frameworks for issues such as housing issues in order to devote more resources to in-house matters like school advocacy, Raney-Gray says.

ACLU Mississippi assists clients with issues like Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filings for employment discrimination, family-law issues such as a court denying custody after a divorce because an individual is in a same-sex relationship, housing issues involving individuals being denied or kicked out of housing over their sexual orientation, judicial-misconduct claims for LGBTQ+ individuals who have been allegedly mistreated in court, name and birth-certificate changes, and more.

ACLU staff attorney McKenna Raney-Gray looked into other organizations’ LGBTQ-based programs to find what niches ACLU Mississsippi’s LGBTQ Justice Project could fill. Photo courtesy ACLU

Raney-Gray also plans to partner with organizations like the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity to assist LGBTQ+ immigrants and members of other minority groups, as well as expand into areas such as the Mississippi delta that suffer a lack of pro-bono attorneys.

“I don’t want people to be siloed one way or another based on their identity, and I don’t want to have blinders on when it comes to other minorities who need help in Mississippi,” Raney-Gray says. “I want to reach out to other groups in an affirming way.”

Outside of legal work for LGBTQ+ individuals, ACLU Mississippi is also involved in school advocacy, dealing with issues such as faculty creating barriers for the establishment of gay-straight alliance clubs, peer or faculty harassment, restroom access for transgender children, affirming names and pronouns, book bans and gendered dress-code conflicts.

For more information or to register for the free legal clinic, visit aclu.org

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