June is Pride Month and VOLS is proud

June 27, 2019

June is Pride Month and VOLS is proud.

At VOLS, we take pride in supporting the LGBTQ community in a variety of ways. This month, VOLS is proud to highlight the voices of queer New Yorkers from across our legal projects and what access to justice has meant to them.


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Carmen Ferreyra, CEO & Co-Founder, Porteñas
Client, VOLS Microenterprise Project

"Porteñas is owned and operated by women who identify as part of the LGBTQ community. We strive to offer a safe space for expression, fostering an environment where discrimination has no place. Counting on the support of organizations like Volunteers of Legal Service has helped us grow our business. Knowing that we can always count with the legal advice of a group of outstanding lawyers helped us deal with complicated issues of discrimination. I am lucky to say that as a New Yorker, I have always felt safe in our City."

Carmen's message for Pride Month:
"Even though we have only opened four months ago, we are very happy to share our first donation drive: for Pride, we created the GAYPANADA, an empanada decorated with the rainbow flag. We will donate 25 cents to the Brooklyn Pride Center, for every Gaypanada sold during Pride Month."


Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders


Ashton Stewart, SAGEVets Program Coordinator, SAGE
Tom Weber, Director of Care Manager Services, SAGE

Community partner, VOLS Elderly Project

"SAGE has been collaborating with Pete Kempner, Director of the Elderly Project at VOLS for years, even before he started working with VOLS. Pete has brought VOLS to SAGE on a number of occasions to present to our Caregiving and Friendly Visiting Programs about advance directives. Most recently, he has brought corporate attorneys to SAGE to partner with our SAGEVets Program in a two-part, end-of-life program that also featured advance directives. These dozen pro bono attorneys, from several prominent law firms and financial institutions, were able to give individual help to our veteran clients in the creation and execution of their health care proxies, living wills and powers of attorney. This was a stunningly successful event, which our clients expressed great appreciation for. We have since been able to refer SAGE veterans to VOLS for individual legal counselling. We greatly value our bond with Pete Kempner and our relationship with VOLS, and we look forward to future collaborations and support from VOLS for LGBT older adults and caregivers."

SAGE's message for Pride Month:
Click to visit SAGE's website, celebrating the Stonewall Generation at 50 years: Still out in front. 50 years of pride.


Meilene J. Belmont | pronouns: she/her/hers
Client, VOLS Immigration Project

My name is Meilene J. Belmont, my pronouns are she/her/hers, and I identify as a transgender woman of color. I am originally from Mexico, and I came to the United States when I was 14 years old. The first obstacles I faced in the U.S. were the English language, the culture differences and the lifestyle. I was always scared to go outside of my environment because I thought the police will arrest me and deport me to my country, since I crossed the border from Mexico to the U.S. 
In 2013, I got enrolled with the Volunteers of Legal Services (VOLS). There I was fortunate to meet Elizabeta Markuci, Director, Immigrant Project, who helped me with my immigration status and applied for political asylum. The application process was not easy and it was a long journey, but fortunately in December 2017 I was granted asylum to legally stay in the U.S. 
Today, my life has changed completely and I am very grateful to everyone in VOLS; my path would not be the same if it wasn't for their help and support. As a transgender woman, their help was substantial in my transition process. After I obtained the asylum, I was able to legally change my name and I started to get involved with Translatinx Network (TN). TN provides services for the LGBTQI+ Community, with an emphasis on transgender and gender non-conforming Latinx individuals; where I have been able to participate and work on their amazing support towards my community. I have been working for TN since 2018. I participated on the workforce training, and currently working as a Peer Health Ambassador. 

Meilene's message for Pride Month:
It is my honor to be involved with an organization that is part of the celebration of the World Pride. We are celebrating the 50th anniversary since the very first pride of the LGBTQI+. We are embracing liberation, freedom, visibility and remembering and honoring all of those trailblazers such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson who fought for my rights and the rights that we now celebrate.

Happy World Pride to everyone!!!


Mi nombre es Meilene J. Belmont, mis pronombres son ella/ella, y me identifico como una mujer transgénero de color. Soy originaria de México, y vine a los Estados Unidos cuando tenía 14 años. Los primeros obstáculos que enfrenté en los Estados Unidos fueron el idioma inglés, las diferencias culturales y el estilo de vida. Siempre tuve miedo de salir de mi entorno porque pensaba que la policía me arrestaría y me deportaría a mi país, ya que crucé la frontera de México a Estados Unidos. 

En 2013, me acerqué a la organización Voluntarios de Servicio Legal (VOLS). Allí tuve la suerte de conocer a Elizabeta Markuci, Directora del Proyecto de Inmigración, quien me ayudó con mi estatus migratorio y solicitó asilo político para mí. El proceso de solicitud no fue fácil y fue un largo viaje, pero afortunadamente en diciembre de 2017 se me concedió asilo para permanecer legalmente en los Estados Unidos. 

Hoy, mi vida ha cambiado por completo, y estoy muy agradecida a todos en VOLS; mi camino no sería el mismo si no fuera por su ayuda y apoyo. Como mujer transgénero, su ayuda fue sustancial en mi proceso de transición. Después de obtener el asilo, pude cambiar legalmente mi nombre y comencé a involucrarme con Translatinx Network (TN). TN proporciona servicios para la Comunidad LGBTQI+, con énfasis en personas latinas transgénero y de género no conforme; donde he podido participar y trabajar en sus increíbles iniciativas de apoyo hacia mi comunidad. He estado trabajando para TN desde 2018, y he participado en la capacitación de la fuerza laboral, y actualmente trabajo como Embajador de Salud entre Pares. 

Por último, es un honor para mí participar en una organización que forma parte de la celebración del Orgullo Mundial. Estamos celebrando el 50 aniversario desde el primer orgullo de la comunidad LGBTQI+. Estamos celebrando y reclamando liberación, libertad, visibilidad de las personas LGBTQI+ y recordando y honrando a todxs esxs pionerxs como Sylvia River y Marsha p. Johnson que lucharon por mis derechos y los derechos que ahora celebramos.

Orgullo del Mundo Feliz para todos!!! 


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Myriam Simpierre, Owner, Buy Better Foods
Client, VOLS Microenterprise Project

"My experience with VOLS was rewarding and helpful. I received continuous support from both a VOLS attorney and my assigned pro bono lawyer. For over 20 years, I served as a retail manager. In the past 5 years, I've desired to open my natural and organic food market. This year it became a reality. Since I was starting a new business, I was in need of a lawyer. I recognized quickly that, as a woman owner, you have to work extra hard to make your voice heard. My legal team made the process of leasing very understandable and successful. I was able to legally voice my needs and wants for my business. It was an empowering experience because I learned a lot of what is required to develop a successful business partnership with your landlord and lawyer. You have to go into the process with determination and patience to make sure you get what you desire. The outcome made me closer to achieving my dream of opening up my business."

Myriam's message for Pride Month:
"We are strong and we have what it takes to accomplish our dreams."



Jeffrey Trachtman

Jeffrey Trachtman, Partner, Kramer Levin 
VOLS Board Member, Vice Chair

Attorney and activist Jeff Trachtman is a longtime member of the VOLS Board. Jeff helped to make marriage equality a reality by serving as co-counsel to Lambda Legal on the New York State marriage litigation and by submitting amicus briefs in the Windsor and Obergefell cases (as well as the earlier Dale v. Boy Scouts and Lawrence v. Texas LGBT rights cases). Jeff chaired his firm's Pro Bono Committee for 17 years and worked with VOLS to establish a fulltime Housing Court externship at Brooklyn Legal Services. He has led pro bono matters to secure partner benefits for a lesbian 9/11 survivor; to ensure fair treatment for SSI claimants, including children and those whose mental disabilities interfere with their ability to make timely claims; and to vindicate the statutory right to adequate housing allowances for low-income New Yorkers.

Jeff's message for Pride month:
"Civil rights and poverty law are not two separate things. The fight for fairness and justice cuts across and unites many overlapping communities."