Students' Experiences in the Clinic
Through the clinic, students have an extraordinary opportunity to participate directly in sexuality and gender law while wrestling with the difficult questions posed by law reform work in the midst of shifting political and legal terrain. Students think through the full range of advocacy options that lawyers can bring to bear on a problem. The clinic began in 2006, and students have already amassed well over 4,000 hours.
“The clinic is the first and only of its kind in the country and it's doing such innovative work. Professor (Suzanne) Goldberg is such a trailblazer in the field that I can't think of working with anyone better,” says Simrin Parmar '08.
In the past few years, students have crafted amicus briefs to the Connecticut and California supreme courts in marriage litigation and to the Iraqi Tribunal regarding prosecution of rape. They have developed legal manuals to support enforcement of women's rights protocols in Africa and worked on a transgender rights ordinance in New York City.
The students' work generates remarkably fulfilling results. In 2007, for instance, the clinic secured asylum for a lesbian from Turkmenistan and for a gay Jamaican man. Both of these individuals feared persecution because of their sexual orientation.
“This experience, where students are responsible for working through the challenges of a case that makes a real world difference in an emerging and important area of law, is what the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic is all about,” says Goldberg, after the Jamaican case. “Thanks to the students' work, we can now provide supporting materials to asylum advocates for gay Jamaicans anywhere in the world.”
John Olsen '08 says he noticed how the group's efforts during the Turkmen case helped others.
“We are very proud to have made a real difference in our client's life” Olsen says.
The clinic and its students also respond quickly to breaking news. When Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during his 2007 speech at Columbia University that Iran has no homosexuals, the students and Goldberg issued a release. It was posted on the Law School's home page and picked up by several web sites, calling Ahmadinejad's claim both absurd and dangerous.
Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic students in 2007 also helped draft a report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It argued that New York City fails to adequately protect racial minority and immigrant domestic violence victims from abuse and discrimination. The report describes the intersection of race, discrimination, and gender-based violence at local, state, and national levels. It also demonstrates New York City's failure to fulfill its obligations.
“By examining domestic violence through the lens of racial discrimination, this report prompts all advocates to see and expose the harsh consequences of domestic violence generally, and the disparate impact on particular groups, be it racial minorities, immigrants or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender individuals or the effect of gender based violence in some other form,” says Sadie Holzman '09, who worked on the report.
Simrin Parmar '08, who also worked on the report, agreed: “It was a great experience to see how a coalition of public interest organizations works together. That's the other great thing about Columbia—being in New York you're surrounded by a ton of organizations doing great work on the ground, and you have the United Nations here as well.”