Michael Donofrio and Dale Noll, the co-presidents of the Miami Law student organization OUTLaw, have joined forces with leaders of similar groups at three other law schools to launch Unified Students, an effort to educate South Florida residents about the legal rights of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered.
The new coalition includes Pamela Fero, of Stonewall Legal Alliance at Florida International University; John Moore, of the Lambda Law Society at Nova Southeastern University; and M. Bradford Walker, of the Gay and Lesbian Law Students Association at St. Thomas University.
"If we want to be able to change the way things are, and be able to achieve equal rights, it takes active leaders to be willing to step up and make things happen," Donofrio said.
The idea developed in September after leaders of LGBT student organizations met for lunch. Taking a strength-in-numbers approach, the students were searching for a name that would represent all the law schools' organizations. Unified Students fit perfectly. The group hopes to have a legal advocacy clinic and non-profit organization set up by the spring of 2012.
As part of the launch, Unified Students hosted a networking social last Friday at Lords South Beach Hotel. More than 50 students, professors, judges and lawyers attended the happy-hour event, which also acted as a means to spread the word about its future endeavors.
The organization is looking for students who are interested in taking on a research project during winter break and volunteer with upcoming campaigns such as Know Your Status/Know Your Rights, a collaboration with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, that will launch at the Key West Health Fair on Jan. 21.
Members of Unified Students are building a website that would act as a legal resource for research and professional development. They also hope to host one-day clinics that would address LGBT legal issues related to estate planning, children, adoptions and medical rights. Members also hope to make an impact on people who misunderstand the gay community.
"With a lot of the gay issues, the solution is education," Donofrio said. "When people are educated, their minds and hearts are quickly changed."