“We want to knock down any barriers that might keep people from seeking help,” explains site attorney Alex Gillett. “Our partnership with the Pride Center makes JFON West Michigan that much more welcoming.”
Both Alex and attorney Katrina Pradelski saw several spousal cases at the clinic—newly married clients seeking to adjust their immigration status. However, they currently have four additional LGBT clients spread out through their site in Grand Rapids, Holland, Kalamazoo, and Traverse City.
“Many of them have already faced persecution in their home countries,” states Katrina. “Then they come here and are stigmatized for both their sexual orientation and immigration status. It adds a whole new level of fear.”
Katrina tells the story of a transgender client—from Tunisia—who successfully changed her name to reflect her new identity. Thanks to JFON West Michigan, this client is now able to put her new name on her green card.
“She’s a perfect example of someone coming from a society that stigmatizes LGBT people,” Katrina relates. “She has suffered from trauma quite a bit in her past.” Katrina pauses to add, “It’s truly a privilege to help her start her new life in America.”
As for the LGBT clinic, Alex reports that it was an absolutely positive experience for everyone—including the two hand-picked volunteers. Plans are already in the works to hold an additional LGBT clinic in Kalamazoo.
“We’re very happy,” says Alex, smiling in satisfaction. “We can’t wait for the next one!”