August Hieber helps create access to legal services for LGBT seniors
Members who inspire
August Hieber helps create access to legal services for LGBT seniors
August Hieber learned early on that different people are treated differently.
They grew up in Dayton, Ohio, with a younger brother with muscular dystrophy and using a wheelchair. Their elementary school was not accessible to him, unless he used a ramp near the dumpsters on the side of the building.
âThe school said to me, ‘You can use the ramp to the trash can to get into the school,’ and I remember thinking, ‘What kind of message does this send to children with disabilities? ? “Says Hieber, who also discovered the power of advocacy after their family managed to get an elevator installed.
Hieber took these lessons to law school, hoping to help other people marginalized because of their identity. In 2017, after their freshman year at Chicago-Kent College of Law, they served as summer interns in the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps JD program and worked with the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services in Chicago to provide assistance and support. customer support. who were 60 years of age or older.
They felt drawn to the Seniors Act and wanted not only to stand up for older people with disabilities, but also older people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
âI take a lot of my own identity into my work,â Hieber says. âI am a trans person. I am non-binary. And I remember thinking to myself, ‘I love doing this job. It really feels good. But how come I don’t see any clients with similar identities and experiences to mine? Why don’t we see older trans people in this practice? “
Hieber was also a volunteer education ambassador for the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging and found, through research, that older LGBT people are less likely to access legal and social services due to previous experiences of invalidation and discrimination.
To address this disparity, Hieber created Proud to Thrive, the first program in Chicago specifically designed to provide culturally appropriate legal defense for this population.
âThe project they developed was the perfect combination of the interests and passions that they brought with them to law school,â said Michelle Vodenik, senior director of public interest law and pro bono initiatives at Chicago-Kent, who served as Hieber’s career counselor. âEven throughout law school, I saw August become active nationally on elder justice initiatives.
“They have an incredible enthusiasm for making an impact and realizing that you can do great work and great things in your life as a lawyer.”
Answer to need
Hieber approached the Center for Disability & Elder Law in Chicago – where they spent much of their third year of law school as an articling student drafting simple wills, powers of attorney, and guardianship petitions – with the proposal by Proud to Thrive.
Through a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship, they planned to help CDEL help low-income LGBT seniors with civil legal issues, such as estate planning and housing issues, at mobile clinics located across geographically and physically accessible locations across the city.
But soon after Hieber graduated from Chicago-Kent and started the program in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and changed their plans.
âI wanted to create a place where people could go to meet their legal needs, no matter where they lived,â Hieber says. âThen when things went virtual, it was less of a concern and it was more, ‘How can I reach out to communities to let them know that I exist? “”
Hieber focused on outreach with community partners, including Pride Action Tank, a project of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. During one of their events, nine of the roughly 50 elderly people who attended said they needed legal assistance.
The following month, Hieber organized a special pro bono clinic where they worked with partners from two law firms and law students to provide services to these people.
Hieber continued to offer one-on-one legal services to any LGBT senior who heard of Proud to Thrive. They remember a client who had problems with his landlord but was not yet threatened with eviction. He needed information about his options, but he also needed someone to hear his story.
âI realized he was really alone, that he was really isolated and in a really stressful situation,â Hieber says. âMy plea at the time was not what I could accomplish for him; it was just to be there for him during this difficult time.
Hieber pivoted during the pandemic to also teach legal professionals how to create culturally appropriate services for LGBT seniors. Their training, which they presented to over 500 people, covered a wide range of topics, including what acronym to use (many older people avoid LGBTQ because they see “queer” as an insult, they say) and how to facilitate access to LGBT Resources.
âWhat August did was open many doors for CDEL as an organization to new community partners, and they also strengthened relationships with existing partners,â said CEO Caroline Manley. “They have also had a huge impact on our staff and our organization as a whole, as well as in terms of the attention they have paid to the LGBT community both internally and externally.”
Additionally, Hieber worked with CDEL on legislative advocacy after acknowledging that issues with a few of their clients affected more LGBT seniors.
As an example, Hieber drafted an ordinance to reduce the cost of registering a death certificate transfer – an estate planning tool that allows homeowners to name a beneficiary for their home upon their death – at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cook County Council of Commissioners adopted it in May 2020.
Hieber, recipient of the 2021 ABA Young Lawyers Division On the Rise Award, loves helping LGBT seniors because they say it’s like securing their own future.
âCaring for the elders of a community is testament to the resilience of a community,â says Hieber, who also serves on the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. “It was really rewarding and satisfying because I was investing in my future and the future of people like me.”
After their Equal Justice Works Fellowship, Hieber decided to help inspire change on a larger scale.
In September, they became the director of programs and advocacy at the Chicago Bar Foundation, where they focus largely on the accessibility of court proceedings. Hieber is working to pass a law that would reform Illinois’ name change law, which is one of the most restrictive in the country.
Hieber also hosts listening sessions to hear from community members about how the courts behave in three areas: disability accommodations, mental health resources, and LGBT access. They plan to use this feedback to create a focused political agenda.
âI was discussing this with my supervisor, and she said to me, ‘Why don’t you combine your interests in people with disabilities and LGBT access and then wonder what accessibility means and what it looks like for? different people trying to access the courts? “Said Hieber. “I have been given a lot of capacity to continue this investigation where it is going, which is really cool.”
Hieber spends most of her free time with their partner, Amanda, who currently works as a member of Equal Justice Works at CDEL, and their cat, Buddho. They also prioritize self-care, which for them includes therapy, hiking, and practicing mindfulness.
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