by Steve Charing
Aaron Merki, a student at the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, spoke before the Rainbow Youth Alliance (RYA)—the youth group under the auspices of PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County—on the evening of January 22.
Some 20 members of the RYA heard Merki discuss the formation of a new legal clinic in Baltimore currently called the Free State Law Project, which will serve LGBT youth in need as well as other members of the community who are facing discrimination.
Merki, a Free State steering committee member, sees the clinic as a way of ending a pattern of neglect for the underprivileged. "If there is a neglected, forgotten community in Baltimore, it is this one; especially the hundreds, if not thousands, of homeless lgbt youth in Baltimore City and around the state," Merki told OUTloud. "Often they are sick, malnourished, abandoned by friends and family, and forced even to prostitute themselves in order to shower and eat."
He added that the problem is especially acute with transgendered youth. "They are typically not accepted in or kicked out of foster homes and must survive on the streets."
The members of the RYA were clearly moved by Merki’s portrait of their lgbt peers in distress and they wanted to do their part to help. One girl said she would ask her father, who is a dean of a local community college, to assist with outreach to the many transgendered students in the school.
Others filled out a sheet of paper with their names and services they could provide Free State. They offered such assistance as web design, fundraising, paperwork, needs assessment and community outreach. All told, over a dozen RYA members indicated their willingness to help Free State in a variety of ways. RYA co-facilitator Jason Hillis presented Merki with the list of volunteers following the discussion.
"The RYA was warm and engaging, inspirational," said Aaron Merki following the meeting. "I was able to share about our project and hear their ideas. Many of them are interested in volunteering, in one way or another."
If all goes well with funding and other issues, the legal clinic is scheduled to open in September 2008.
Photo: Aaron Merki (l.) accepts list of volunteers from RYA co-facilitator Jason Hillis.