Ensuring Access to Legal Services for the LGBTQ Community Throughout the U.S.
In this episode of On Record PR, Gina Rubel goes on record with Angela Giampolo, the owner of Giampolo Law Group, which services the LGBTQ community for all of their legal needs. Angela is the founder of Caravan of Hope, an initiative that seeks to alleviate the burdens and stress experienced by the most vulnerable in the LGBTQ community. Caravan of Hope also seeks to ensure that the LGBTQ people living in rural communities have access to the resources they need to thrive. Throughout June and for Pride Month, Angela took an RV cross-country providing pro bono legal services to underserved and underrepresented LGBTQ individuals. Her services included everything from transgender name changes and gender marker changes to wills, uncontested divorces, and getting started on adoption.
Angela, also known as the Philly Gay Lawyer, is an expert on LGBTQ legal issues and has been featured as a leading expert on national media, including NPR, CBS, Fox News and NBC. She’s provided insight as a legal columnist for the Legal Intelligencer, Philadelphia Business Journal and Philadelphia Gay News. She is also a member of the Philadelphia Bar Association.
Gina Rubel: I’m super excited to have you on the show, Angela. You’re coming to us from the caravan. According to the website for Caravan of Hope, today you are somewhere between Laramie, Wyoming and Omaha, Nebraska. Is that correct?
Angela Giampolo: Exactly. Yep. We left Laramie this morning. Yesterday we were under a tornado watch until 8:00 PM and then hail the size of golf balls started at 1:00 PM. We got out of Dodge and headed to Omaha earlier than anticipated, but tomorrow is our service day in Omaha.
Gina Rubel: That’s fantastic. And well, first of all, happy Pride Month, my friend. I have a Pride mug. I bought a mug with a rainbow when I was in Canada last year. It’s also to our Canadian on the call. We went up to Nova Scotia, but I bought this in New Brunswick on my way home, from this great potter that I met up there. I just loved it and I thought, “Well, it definitely needs to be used every day for the month of June.”
Tell me about the Caravan of Hope and how you’re working to address the needs of the most vulnerable in the LGBT community.
Philadelphia is a haven for LGBTQ rights and has been forever. We were one of the first cities in 1996, due to Mayor Kenny actually when he was councilman, that created a life partnership registry going on decades ago. The fight for LGBTQ rights was very active in Philadelphia. I never take that for granted as an LGBTQ advocate. When President Trump was elected, but before the inauguration, there was a tremendous amount of fear and therefore questions that were coming to me from Facebook messages, and DMs for the first time in the 15 years I’ve had my law firm. People find me, they go to the website, they fill out the Contact Us form, but this was like DMs, Facebook messages, text messages if they could get my cell phone. It was urgent.
It dawned on me that if folks right here in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania and New Jersey area have that much fear despite the local protections that we have, what about the folks in Alabama, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Nebraska where it’s not as easy to be out first and foremost? You may not be out about your relationship. Then to seek out legal counsel for specific legal needs, having to do with the fact that you’re LGBTQ, but you’re not even out. Or if you are out, but there’s no competent legal counsel that knows how to address those legal needs.
Predominantly, we are very much behind the eight-ball after you leave the coasts. I feel like a lot of places on the coast except for Florida, tend to be very progressive. Cities tend to be very progressive. We’re stopping in Chicago; it’s the one city that definitely doesn’t need me, but it’s easily accessible by so many places. I didn’t realize this until I started doing the tour. But for people to drive three and a half hours for something, it’s absolutely the norm. We were in Birmingham, Alabama and someone from Tennessee drove just to come see us and it was a three-hour drive.
The Caravan of Hope was born out of the fact that 501(c)3 filings shot up 37% after Trump’s election. I wasn’t the only one. I think a lot of people sat there and they were like, “What can I do?” I’m doing what I do all day every day for the LGBTQ community, but taking that on the road ultimately. As the name suggests, just spreading hope. For everyone who hears about it, it brings a smile to their face, whether they themselves need legal services, or they’re just happy to know that it’s happening. You have to think back to 2016. We had just had Obama for two terms and the word hope was sort of ingrained in us through the Obama administration. I think the word hope was very much in my subconscious when I came up with the name, Caravan of Hope, at that time.
Gina Rubel: I want to say thank you on behalf of anyone and everyone in the LGBTQ community. If they’re out, if they’re not out, if they’re an ally, if they’re a supporter, if they’re a friend, a family member. It just pains me as an ally to know how the world has changed. It’s interesting you mentioned Philadelphia because I’m born and raised in Philadelphia. My dad actually did the legal work for the very first gay bar in Philadelphia, called Upstairs, Downstairs. I was raised in a household of allies. The Philadelphia Bar Association has been a great ally to all people, to all diversity. It pains me to see where we are today.
Have you come across any negativity on the caravan or has it all been positive?
It has all been positive because, again, we’re sort of in a bubble. We go from our host location to where we sleep. In the evening, we wake up, we go to the next host location. In Denver, we were at the LGBT Community Center, or their version of the William Way Community Center. You interview lawyers and you’re very familiar that I’m not licensed in all of these states. For this to happen seamlessly, I needed partner lawyers in every single one of these states.
I meet with the partner lawyers, and we’re at the host location, which is typically in sort of the gayborhood or an LGBTQ-specific location. Then we leave and we go to the next one. I will say there were a couple of moments, because we’re going back from RV parks to some hotels to break it up because there were three of us in this caravan. We were wanting to break it up for sanity purposes plus we have my chihuahua, so there are really four, or three and a half of us.
In an RV park, I was walking Nico, my chihuahua, and he was off leash. The guy was looking at us, and he did not look happy that Nico was off the leash. I couldn’t really tell. Our caravan is all decaled out, “Caravan of Hope, cross country tour.” It has a QR code for the website. He is staring at it, and it turns out he was looking upon it nicely and exactly what you just said, as an ally.
When people come for one, they eventually come for all. It doesn’t matter where you fall on the diversity spectrum, if it’s an invisible disability, if you’re Jewish, if you’re a woman, just like anywhere you are on the knapsack of privilege in terms of where your diversity falls. He’s from Texas, he’s a white, cis, straight male, and he just started out with, “I just want to apologize for my state,” because we could see his license plate. He thought we were judging him. Right away it was sort of like a coming out, if you will, of him coming out as an ally apologizing for his license plate.
I’ve been lucky even in RV parks that the people that have approached us have approached us because they want to say good things. Driving that has been honestly the most fun thing. The caravan is all decaled out and cars come up and they’re honking and they’re thumbs up and it’s just heartwarming.
Gina Rubel: I’m so happy to hear that. Now I got chills. I mean literally just made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s all I can wish for you. I was thinking when you mentioned Florida, I’m a member of an organization called the Legal Marketing Association. And our president, Roy Sexton, is an out member of the LGBTQ community. It was really hard having our conference there and being an inclusive organization with everything that’s been going on. Roy opened the conference. He’s also a thespian, so he’s a phenomenal singer and actor.
He opened it with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, but he comes out and he’s in sequins and he is singing and dancing. Then all of a sudden after the first verse, he brings in this beautiful woman in drag and she’s in this incredible rainbow costume. What was so beautiful though, was not just the performance, but the fact that just about every single person, over 1,200 attendees, were standing up and just screaming in joy for this moment.
This is how we opened our Legal Marketing Association International Conference. To see that level of inclusion and spirit and love, and not just equality, but a sense of belonging. ‘Cause we always talk about creating that sense of belonging. It was just amazing. I was in tears, I just was in tears.
Angela Giampolo: I got chills when you were describing it. We’re just going back and forth on chill-worthy moments. To your point, everybody talks about inclusion and the history of DEI, right? Diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s like a moment where it’s more than about being included. You include someone, wonderful, thank you. It used to be back in the day, it was like, we should play music for all when you’re having an inviting party. But it’s like music that the person can dance to, wants to dance to.
And that’s a moment like that where everybody’s standing up. It was not just for the performance itself, but for his courage. There’s so much happening in that moment that everybody is feeling. It’s honoring and acknowledging his courage, honoring and acknowledging who he is and loving him for it. The stance, honoring and acknowledging the statement that he’s making for the entire LGBTQ community, the political statement that he’s making doing it in Florida, knowingly. There’s so many layers there in him having done that. I feel like everyone’s standing up in tears and all of the things, it’s like all of those nuances were hitting you.
What are some of the legal issues that you’ve been dealing with and what’s most pressing?
Definitely the most pressing and the most requested for two different reasons are transgender name changes and gender marker changes for folks. I say for two different reasons because one, the pressing piece is, as you may know, there are over 550 anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced this year alone. And Human Rights Campaign, for the first time in its 40-year history, has declared a national state of emergency around travel if you are LGBTQ. They announced it on the day we kicked off the caravan as I’m about to go through 14 states and travel more through the U.S. than I ever had. It was for that very reason. For other folks that are just traveling to travel, they say, “Be careful. Research the laws of the state that you are traveling to, to see how you could be impacted.”
For instance, we were in Memphis, Tennessee. On July 1, the laws are changing to make it much more difficult for trans folks and/or non-binary folks to change their name or gender marker on their IDs. We did a ton of name changes in Memphis and literally said, “Go to the courthouse. If you have the filing fee, go.” And that’s the other reason that’s one of the most requested is these are pro-bono legal services. My legal partners have agreed to help pro-bono. I’m obviously doing all of this pro-bono.
And trans folks are disproportionately impacted from an income perspective. They are seven times more likely to be below the poverty level, 26 times more likely to be discriminated against at work and therefore not feel comfortable going to work and so therefore unemployed. Not wanting their ID. If you look like me, but my ID says John Giampolo, would I want that every day when I go to work? A lot of people’s passwords to get into their work email or whatever, it’s their name, it’s their username. So they’re constantly typing a dead name.
A lot of folks don’t understand why so many trans folks are disproportionately lower incomes than others and in need of these services that are expensive. It takes time, it’s transactional. You don’t have to go to court; Philadelphia has really streamlined their process in the name change department. Shout out to Pete and Nora in Philadelphia and the name change department. They’re huge allies. But not everybody has a Pete and Nora in their town ultimately.
And so there are many, many steps. It can be overly complex if you have a lawyer do it, with the amount of hours it takes me to do it. Most lawyers charge $2,000 for a name change and that’s more than some people make in six months. Definitely those two areas of law, both because of how trans folks are disproportionately impacted around their income, and then also all these laws that are going into effect to make it more difficult. Now’s the time for that.
Additionally, I would say basic estate planning is key for folks that have transphobic parents or have been disowned for their LGBTQIA status in some way, shape or form. Those parents or that hostile family is still their power of attorney, still legal next of kin. So just even getting POAs in the hands of someone that you feel safe with, not even a will. It’s very, very important, especially with the amount of healthcare and health treatment that trans folks need. They’re constantly dealing with healthcare providers around their hormones and they’re transitioning. It’s important to get powers of attorney in the hands of someone you trust.
We also work with uncontested divorces, and we had the opportunity to assist with two adoptions, getting them set up with agencies, what that system looks like and home studies and all of that in their particular county. We assist people with random legal questions. Sometimes there’s no service that can be provided per se, but what people end up doing is telling us their story and there’s hope, literally on their face. They look nervous coming in at first and then they leave in laughter later after telling us their life story, leaving more hopeful. So that’s probably been one of the biggest things that I didn’t anticipate.
What words of encouragement can you offer to the LGBTQ individuals who are struggling with legal issues?
That’s a really good question because ultimately that’s why I founded the Caravan of Hope. So after Pride Month until next Pride Month, I won’t be a resource. And depending on where the listeners are, they could be anywhere in the country. And so my encouragement is that with research and even if it means reaching out to me to get my take on who is a safe ally or competent legal counsel out by you, and even if it’s a three-hour drive or one-hour drive, I have no doubt that we can find you competent, safe legal counsel.
If you’re in a position where you cannot retain counsel, depending on what the legal need is, there are community legal services somewhere in your area. There are the bar associations. The majority of bar associations have LGBTQ committees. And I know it’s hard when you are worrying about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food, clothing, shelter, to do this kind of research. So even if it’s just reaching out to me to have me do this research to hone in on where you can find pro-bono legal services and/or competent legal counsel, I know they exist and I will help you find them. That’s a bit of encouragement.
Gina Rubel: I will say to our listeners, seek out Angela on social media. She’s there, she’s very active on social media. I think it’s a great place to ask questions so that it can be shared more easily, more quickly.
Right now, how can others, including members of the LGBTQ community and allies, support your efforts?
On your last point, I do Rainbow Minutes on social. So it’s literally 60 seconds. You know what you’re signing up for, all the ADHD folks out there, with Rainbow Minute. I never go over a minute. But really, I answer legal questions. I’ll be doing a few today and tomorrow about name changes and gender marker changes. The way that I can describe it on a macro level without the state-specific nuances, but since that has been the most requested legal service, doing a few Rainbow Minutes around that and demystifying that to allow people to feel confident to do it DIY cause it’s absolutely DIY-able. So to Gina’s point, yes, you can find me on social, but you can also learn from me on social as well.
Then you can help with the cause and donate. I had no idea the amount of gas that it would take to take a 14,000-pound, 32-foot RV cross country, 5,000 miles. So if you go to the website, caravanofhope.lgbt, right up top, it’ll say please donate to the maiden voyage. And you can find us on social, Caravan of Hope LGBT on Instagram, Caravan of Hope on Facebook. My personal socials, Angela Giampolo and Your Gay Lawyer are being used for this as well. So donating, but also just supporting, getting the word out.
Ultimately the caravan going cross country and everything that I’m doing is all well and good, but if folks don’t know that I’m in town on the day that I’m in town like tomorrow in Omaha, Nebraska, and then nobody comes to the caravan and nobody gets service… So far that hasn’t happened but that’s definitely what I’ll be building on for next year. I’m keeping the same itinerary three years in a row. This was the maiden voyage to work out all the kinks, to do the itinerary.
We are going to tweak some things. This is working out the kinks. And then next year really building on partnerships, doing things like this sooner and making it even more successful next year.
Gina Rubel: I’m going to have to give a plug for the power of PR, right? Getting the word out. Do you go anywhere near Detroit on this trip?
Angela Giampolo: I guess Chicago and then Columbus, Ohio would be the closest. Before that, Chicago. After Columbus, it’s Pittsburgh. And then Philly. Philly’s service day is June 30th.
Gina Rubel: That’s awesome. I’m putting it on my calendar. If I can get down to Philly, I will of course. Just depends on everything else that’s going on. And if you do get to the Detroit area, definitely look up Roy Sexton, who I mentioned to you previously. I’m going to make sure that you two are connected. Shout out to you Roy, you’re one of my many LGBTQ heroes like Angela. And I’m just so happy to have you on the show and to be able to provide another safe place as an ally to the community.
Angela Giampolo: You have a platform and something you said earlier about the fact that you acknowledge the layers and the nuances of the difficulties and the hardships that are faced by the LGBTQ community and not enough allies are aware of that. And so often I hear from allies, “Oh, I’m totally cool with the fact that you’re gay.” And they think that’s helpful because they’re saying I’m totally cool with it. But it’s like, “I need you to also be vigilant with me. I don’t want you to just be cool with it. It’s about being vigilant with me, next to me, using the resources at your disposal,” which is what you’re doing. Thank you. Thank you for having me on, and thanks for being an awesome ally with your homemade pride cup, Canadian pride cup.
Gina Rubel: My Canadian coffee cup, my ceramic mug. It is important, and I just want to say that to the business owner listeners, no matter what kind of company you’re in, this also means supporting same-sex marriage because it affects your employees. It means supporting same-sex adoption. It means providing medical benefits and other benefits to same-sex couples. I am surrounded by people who identify in the LGBTQ community. I love them all the same, but that’s not enough. We have to stand up in our schools. We have to stand up against bullying. There’s so much we can do.
And I think a lot of people just don’t know what they can do because if they identify as cisgender, it’s like, “Well, I can get married. I can do it this way.” Well, it’s not that way for everyone. So a member of our team who I’m very close to, got married in Maine the day that same-sex marriage was ratified in Maine. And I was just so excited that that individual could have the same rights that I get to have. And so, it’s just the way my brain works is it just doesn’t make sense that we’re still fighting this fight. But it doesn’t make sense that we’re fighting a lot of fights these days. That being said, we are. And so I just want to encourage our listeners to really listen, really listen and understand the plight of people who are struggling, because it’s just heartbreaking.
Angela Giampolo: And you mentioned business owners and business owners obviously own businesses, but they’re human. There’s a founder, there’s the leader if you will. And it’s important to know that if it makes sense, it makes dollars as well. Equality makes sense. And there’s a whole business case behind championing equality. And I want to mention King Financial who’s a financial services firm and they’re our platinum sponsor. Without them, we wouldn’t have the caravan itself that I rented for the month.
But here’s a financial services firm not owned by an LGBTQ individual, majority if not the whole staff is cisgender straight. But they wanted to do something and they don’t necessarily know what to do themselves, but they know the Caravan of Hope can do the thing. So as a business owner and/or just as a busy person, you don’t always have to be the one standing on the front lines doing the thing. I get it. There are just so many causes and so many things and what have you.
But if it makes dollars, it makes sense and if it makes sense, it eventually makes dollars. And so there’s just also a business case to be made for equality that I feel like not enough LGBTQ advocates talk about because we’re so busy doing the thing. But in writing for the Philadelphia Business Journal, in writing for the Legal Intelligencer, I’m constantly making both arguments. Be an ally for the goodwill piece of it, but also your clientele will love the fact that, “Wow, King Financial stands for something and they put their money where their mouth is.”
But for them this caravan wouldn’t be rolling. And to the business owners listening, you will alienate some folks. Not every single one of your clients is pro-LGBTQ. But if you stand for that from a mission perspective, from a vision perspective, from that perspective about attracting who you want to work with, you may alienate some folks, but you’ll end up doing business because you want to do business with who wants to do business with you.
Final plug there just for business owners, because you’re right, not everyone knows what they can do, and then they get paralyzed in that and end up not doing anything. And it could simply be we have a documentarian on board and someone underwrote that. And really tangible things that you can get behind. I feel like there’s always something you can do.
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