Julia Hall Saenz ('13) awarded Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship to work in civil rights litigation for the LGBTQ community
Julia Hall Saenz (‘13), Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellow 2013, began her fellowship in September of 2013, in the Rochester, NY, office of the Empire Justice Center working in civil rights litigation for the LGBTQ community with a focus on employment law.
“The legal community tends to focus on DOMA and marriage as the poster issue for the LBGTQ community, but for me, employment is a much larger-scale issue of LGBTQ people who are living under the poverty line,” says Saenz.
Recognizing the various drawbacks that discourage many attorneys from practicing public interest law, the Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship, sponsored by the Empire Justice Center, seeks to provide competitive salaries to talented lawyers who are beginning their career in the area of poverty law.
Saenz first became involved in LGBTQ advocacy as early as high school, working as a Youth Board Member at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). After receiving her undergraduate degree in social work from New York University, she continued to focus on the LGBTQ community through a field placement with the Ali Forney Center, which works to provide housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.
“I really loved that work, but I kept running against a lot of legal barriers from my clients. I felt frustrated when I couldn't help them remove those barriers, and I decided I wanted to go to law school,” says Saenz.
During her 1L and 2L summers, Saenz gained more legal experience by working for the New York State Division of Human Rights and the AIDS Action Committee in Boston. In June 2012, Saenz began volunteering for the Black and Pink pen pal program as a weekly pro bono volunteer. The program works with LGBTQ prisoners to provide support and prevent prison violence. Her work with the program was highlighted in the February 2013 BU Pro Bono Newsletter, where she wrote about how the program has affected her view on her work.
“Whether it’s a letter to a warden on behalf of a prisoner who is being abused, or a quick note to a member who is having a bad day, the strength of our family gives many of us the courage to keep moving forward. Reading the prisoners’ brave and compelling letters on a consistent basis is tangible fuel for my career as an advocate, beyond the tower and what can seem like a steady diet of hypothetical legal doctrine,” wrote Saenz.
Saenz also noted how the Career Development Office helped her with her fellowship application, making suggestions of how to tie in the missions of the fellowship to her project and emphasizing her previous experience. Saenz highlighted her case management and client contact skills as well as her experience in community organizing in the application, but overall, she featured her passion.
“[The Empire Justice Center] was validating that they think that the LGBTQ population is woefully underserved, especially people under the poverty line,” says Saenz. “They want me to dedicate two years to fill that gap. Basically, it is my dream job, so I really feel blessed to have gotten it.”
Reported by Elyssa Sternberg
Updated April 30, 2014