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Citizen of the Week: Caravan of Hope

PhillyGayLawyer Angela Giampolo plans to take her legal services to LGBTQ people where they need it most—small town America

PhillyGayLawyer Angela Giampolo plans to take her legal services to LGBTQ people where they need it most—small town America

Angela Giampolo, known online as PhillyGayLawyer, is originally from Montreal. During the Presidential campaign last year, she joked about moving back to Canada if Donald Trump won.

“And then Trump won and it dawned on me right away that Philly Gay Lawyer, who’s been fighting for LGBTQ rights for 10 years, can’t leave the minute it gets real,” Giampolo says.

Giampolo founded the Giampolo Law Group in 2008 with the goal of providing legal services for the LGBTQ community. Now, she plans to take her services on wheels to rural areas where the political climate has made it even harder to be LGBTQ. Her Caravan of Hope, a full-sized RV renovated into a mobile office, will offer divorces, name and gender marker changes, adoption petitions and estate plans pro bono in small towns throughout Pennsylvania.

Giampolo had been mulling over the idea of Caravan of Hope for the last few years, planning to get it off the ground in a couple more. Then Trump reversed former Pres. Obama’s guidance to schools on letting transgender kids use the bathroom of their choice. That day, Giampolo launched a GoFundMe page to help pay for the RV, and spent 14 hours working on her website.

“People are scared right here in Philadelphia, and we’re [the Human Rights Campaign’s] number-one rated top LGBT city in the country for laws and protection,” she says. “If people are scared here and calling PhillyGayLawyer off the hook, I can’t imagine what it’s like in Chattanooga or Dallas.”

Giampolo’s clients seek her out because of her advocacy and knowledge of LGBTQ rights. In rural communities, there is often no one qualified to help. And many residents don’t want their neighbors to know they are LGBTQ. “The mission is to serve people who can’t normally reach PhillyGayLawyer,” Giampolo says. “In rural areas, that’s underserved populations, specifically LGBT people of color, trans people, youth and the elderly.”

Even before she pulls into a town, Giampolo plans to send canvassers in, with flyers announcing when Caravan of Hope will be there. The RV itself will remain generic, so anyone walking in will be able to maintain their secrecy, if needed. Giampolo will make two appearances in each town—one for an initial consultation, and another to follow up on the work, to make sure the client has no further questions or needs.

Giampolo is in the process of speaking with local law schools about using law students as volunteers for some of the work, to receive credit for their clinical courses.

“What’s awesome about this is … once the RV is purchased, remodeled and branded, that’s it. All we need then are the people willing to help,” she says. “It’s not like a nonprofit where every year you have to raise a $150,000 budget.”

While fundraising for Caravan of Hope, Giampolo also has a vision to create a for-profit gay lawyer network, with Philadelphia as the hub connecting gay lawyers in all 50 states. On her blog, she urges citizens to find hope in their community and united voices.

“While it’s a very dark time politically and sociologically for so many people, I love how many people are mobilizing creatively and how many new ideas that wouldn’t exist if not for Trump becoming president,” she writes. “We’re mobilizing in ways that I don’t think we’ve seen since the Vietnam War. It’s, ironically, wonderful to see.”

Header Photo: Sabina Louise Pierce

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