Philanthropy Friday: AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania

Every Friday we spotlight a local LGBT nonprofit in Philadelphia. This week: AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, a public-interest law firm providing free legal assistance to people with HIV/AIDS and those affected by the epidemic.

AIDS Law Project's Messapotamia Lefae and Ronda Goldfein.

AIDS Law Project’s Messapotamia Lefae and Ronda Goldfein.

Who are you? My name is Messapotamia Lefae and I work as the administrative assistant to Ronda Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania (ALP).

When was AIDS Law Project founded? In 1988 to focus on AIDS-related discrimination cases. At that time, no laws protected people with HIV/AIDS from discrimination.

What services does ALP provide? Our office handles civil litigation matters over a wide range of practice areas, including AIDS-related discrimination, confidentiality, HIV testing policies, public benefits (including Social Security disability benefits, Medicaid, Medicare and welfare benefits), private health benefits and insurance coverage, housing advocacy, medical-related debt, wills, living wills and powers of attorney, and immigration. We educate the public about AIDS-related legal issues, train case management professionals to become better advocates for their HIV-positive clients, and we work at local, state and national levels to achieve fair laws and policies. Our senior lawyers have distinguished themselves such that policymakers, health care providers, and educators and other attorneys consult them for advice and technical assistance.

That’s a lot of services. How many people do you serve? In our 27 years, we have risen to the defense of 40,000 people with HIV and AIDS across the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We have also educated more than 41,000 others on AIDS-related legal issues so that they can advocate for themselves, their clients, their patients, and their communities. Beginning March 1, 2015, we expanded our services to Southern New Jersey.

What is AIDS Law Project’s shining moment, to date: Very recently, a licensed practical nurse in Lebanon County was charged with four crimes, including two felonies, based on allegations by a man she dated who claimed she had not disclosed her HIV status. Julie was arrested and had to post $25,000 bail. Convictions on these charges carried the potential for decades in prison. Her name private medical information and place of employment were reported in the local media. She was indefinitely suspended from her job and scheduled to lose her medical insurance. Her employer also challenged her unemployment compensation benefits.

Julie’s criminal attorney, along with attorneys from the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania worked together to develop a strong defense, including providing an expert witness on HIV transmission. We took a holistic approach to supporting our client. We represented her on the unemployment compensation claim, advised her on keeping her nursing license, assisted her with obtaining health insurance and negotiated her ultimate return to work. Finally, after a 19-month nightmare, she is no longer facing criminal charges and her life is back on track. She has become an HIV/AIDS activist, raising awareness and encouraging others to advocate for themselves. You can read the full story on our website.

If a check for $1 million found its way to our doorstep … everyone gets a raise and a new pair of John Fluevog work shoes! Actually, our employees earn far less than their colleagues in private practice. Public interest lawyers work for social justice at a personal financial sacrifice. With a million dollars, we could work toward paying our employees fair market wages.

We’d also like to hire full-time staff attorneys and a Spanish-speaking paralegal and set up a permanent office for the AIDS Law Project of South Jersey to enhance the level of service that we’re able to provide for the South Jersey HIV community. In addition, we could offer training to case management professionals in South Jersey to become better advocates for their HIV-positive clients—and take a closer look at the local and state laws and policies that are in place.

Team AIDS Law Project at their annual event Boo! in 2014.

Team AIDS Law Project at their annual event Boo! in 2014.

Have any special events coming up? The AIDS Law Project’s annual Summer Movie Party will be on July 31st at the William Way Community Center. Save the date! Tickets will be sold at a discounted rate until the end of June. This year, we will be screening Hot Rods to Hella 1967 thriller about a family being terrorized by a gang of hotrodders in the California desert.

Our annual gala Boo!, at bahdeebahdu, will be on October 29th. Last year, on Mischief Night, some incredible costumes (including a hamburger, Joan Rivers, and Frida Kahlo) graced the distinctive and stylish bahdeebahdu, whose interior was designed by RJ Thornburg with lighting by Warren Muller. For more information, visit our website.

This past February, more than 200 people crowded the upstairs of Boxers for the incredibly successful and unforgettable V15 Bachelor Auction. It was so steamy that my glasses fogged up, and they were still in my bag! ALPP has recently collaborated with [Stimulus] for the Back 2 Basics Party (Throwback Hip Hop & Pop Edition) this past March. We also worked with the LGBT Elder Initiative for a legal clinic to sit down one-on-one with LGBT older adults and prepare 93 estate documents free of charge. We are always looking for new ways to collaborate with and engage with the people we serve and the community at large.

Are there other ways I can help without donating money? Volunteer opportunities can be found on our website. We’re currently looking for volunteers to help with our upcoming special events. We invite anyone to inquire about volunteer opportunities, like administrative assistance, legal research, or grant writing. We’re open to suggestions. We accept applications for volunteer attorneys on a rolling basis. Please email cover letters and resumes to: Our staff is trans-friendly, fashion-forward, and committed to our work.

How can I donate money? Visit our website, where you can make a credit card gift online through our secure online donation page hosted by PayPal. Alternatively, you can complete this donation form and mail it to our office at 1211 Chestnut Street, Suite 600, Philadelphia, PA, 19107. Donations can also be made through workplace giving programs like the United Way of SE PA Specific Care Option (#09067) or the Combined Federal Campaign Donor Option (#36027).