Freedom Center celebrates one year of successes

New organization has founded a law center, employment program and other services

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: December 13, 2013 in News

Kelly Durden, left standing, and Sarah Demarest, right standing, discuss the work of the LGBTQ Law Center, with Freedom Center for Social Justice founder Bishop Tonyia Rawls seated left.

Kelly Durden, left standing, and Sarah Demarest, right standing, discuss the work of the LGBTQ Law Center, with Freedom Center for Social Justice founder Bishop Tonyia Rawls seated left.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An organization founded to address the needs of low-income and diverse members of the LGBT community celebrated its first year and accomplishments at a fundraiser in Charlotte on Thursday.

About 40 people gathered at the historic Wadsworth Estate in Wesley Heights for the Freedom Center for Social Justice’s Free to Shine fundraising event. There, founder Bishop Tonyia Rawls and center staff shared many of their accomplishments this year and asked for the community’s support as it grows into next year.

“I’ve been impressed not only with the [center's] vision but also the great people behind that vision,” said Jessica, a volunteer and client who received support from the Freedom Center’s LGBTQ Law Center. “They see the need for positive change in the community.”

Jessica, who is transgender, received support in legally changing her name and her gender marker. She’s also since enrolled in community college. The support she received, Jessica said, has been instrumental in her personal achievements.

“The more people who get involved the greater the vision will become,” Jessica said, noting that center staff have a “spirit full of hope, selflessness and aspiration.”

The Freedom Center for Social Justice has its roots in several local and national projects, like local tutoring for students and the annual TransFaith In Color conferences held 2010-2012. But, the organization was fully established early in 2013. The group has since formed the LGBTQ Law Center, under lead attorney Kelly Durden and attorney Sarah Demarest. The group has also established its Transgender Employment Program and its Transgender Faith and Action Network will take up the work previously done by the annual TransFaith conferences.

The LGBTQ Law Center has taken a front-and-center role this year, working with local partners and traveling the state for free legal clinics and presentations. Demand for its services has remained steady, said organizers. Low-income people and others without the resources to access traditional legal counsel have been coming to the center, which charges either no consultation or legal fees or places people into a sliding fee scale based on income level.

“We want to make sure people get the information they need and the help they are entitled to,” said Durden. “We want to make these services available to all people.”

The Freedom Center has several local partners, including the PowerHouse Project, the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte and Time Out Youth. Freedom Center staff visit with clients and provide assistance at these satellite locations. The group said they are looking forward to growing community partnerships and collaboration in the future.

“Our vision is that we will have a Charlotte that is truly an inclusive space for all,” said Rawls.

To learn more about the Freedom Center for Social Justice, visit fcsj.org.