“FreeState Legal: Advocating for Maryland’s Low-income LGBT Residents”

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) community has unique legal needs. Low-income LGBT individuals, particularly LGBT youth, people of color and immigrants, are harmed by systematic inequality arising from prejudice and discrimination. Prior to FreeState Legal Project’s founding, there were no organizations in Maryland dedicated to providing free or reduced-cost legal services to meet the legal needs of this population. Mr. Merki will explain FreeState’s work, give a sense of Maryland’s low-income LGBT population, and discuss the issues and work still remaining after marriage equality.

Aaron Merki has been the Executive Director of FreeState Legal Project since 2012. Prior to assuming that role, Aaron was a corporate litigator at Venable LLP. There, he represented Fortune 500 companies, in addition to smaller companies and individuals. Aaron’s involvement with Free-State Legal Project can be traced to FreeState’s inception. In 2007, Aaron helped found FreeState with a small group of law students and legal practitioners. He went on to build FreeState’s Board of Directors, assist with its incorporation, oversee the first needs assessment of Baltimore’s low-

income LGBT community, and lead FreeState as President of the Board of Directors as FreeState opened its doors to the community. In 2008–2009, Aaron clerked for the Honorable Judge Susan K. Gauvey of the United States District Court for Maryland. He attended the University of Maryland School of Law, where he was the Paul Beckman Leadership Scholar. He served as the Articles Editor of the Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class, and as President of the LGBT Law Student Alliance. He earned his Bachelors in Political Science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), Phi Beta Kappa, where he was a Walter Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar. In 2011, Aaron was named one of Baltimore’s “20 in their 20’s” and in 2010, Aaron was named UMBC’s Rising Star Alumnus of the Year.

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