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Proyecto Poderoso | Project Powerful


NCLR has partnered with California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) to improve legal services for low-income LGBT people in rural California.

LGBT people are becoming increasingly visible in rural California. A Williams Institute analysis revealed that about 136,000 self-identified gay, lesbian, and bisexual people reside in rural counties served by CRLA. Rural gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities reflect tremendous racial and ethnic diversity, and about one-third of the population struggles with poverty. The population suffers pervasive discrimination and higher rates of unemployment, disability and psychological stress compared to heterosexual counterparts. Though the size of the rural transgender community is still being measured, CRLA has served a growing number of transgender clients. CRLA's transgender clients often encounter the most egregious discrimination.

In response to these challenges, NCLR and CRLA have created Proyecto Poderoso—Project Powerful. Proyecto Poderoso is making a difference in the lives of rural LGBT people by improving access to LGBT-specific legal services, and changing for the better the way rural communities see LGBT people. California offers strong legal protections for LGBT people, but those laws will exist only in theory, unless we improve access to justice for rural LGBT people.



project manager | Dan Torres

Dan Torres, Esq. joined NCLR in August 2010 as the project manager for Proyecto Poderoso. In addition to leading Proyecto Poderoso, Dan is also a staff attorney at CRLA. Previously, Dan worked at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center organizing LGBT immigrants, conducting Know Your Rights presentations and providing technical assistance to legal services and pro bono attorneys. He represented clients as a staff attorney at the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in Sacramento, worked as a clinical instructor at the UC Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic, and served as a staff attorney for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

project goals and strategies

Proyecto Poderoso accomplishes its goal of improving legal services to rural LGBT people by pursuing three strategies: 1) community education, 2) organizational capacity building and 3) increasing the provision of direct legal services. CRLA and NCLR are collaborating to implement this strategy. The project also draws on support from a network of individuals and organizations, including LGBT groups and allies, as well as Latino organizations.

Community Education

Educating communities is a critical component of the effort to protect LGBT civil and human rights. Proyecto Poderoso educates the rural public through media appearances, community presentations, and outreach. NCLR contributes to this education campaign by providing outreach materials, media support, and advice on effective communications strategies.

Organizational Capacity Building

Under the auspices of Proyecto Poderoso, NCLR is helping to build the expertise of CRLA attorneys and staff in the area of LGBT law. Through a series of trainings supported by NCLR, CRLA attorneys and staff will become informed about issues commonly affecting LGBT communities and key legal protections available to address those concerns. NCLR provides training support and materials in the areas of employment, family, youth and housing law. Ultimately, CRLA’s expanded expertise will improve the organization’s ability to provide legal representation to low-income LGBT individuals in rural California.

Direct Legal Services

The third strategy involves the provision of legal services directly to low income LGBT people, whose rights have been violated. Ultimately, prosecuting discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity sends a clear message that LGBT rights must be respected. NCLR provides litigation assistance to CRLA as needed, and NCLR and CRLA co-counsel select cases. NCLR also helps connect CRLA with its network of LGBT-friendly attorneys.

project highlights

National LGBT Legal Aid Forum

The National LGBT Legal Aid Forum is a new listserv dedicated to improving legal services for low-income LGBT clients. This listserv is a forum for members to post questions and answers related to serving LGBT clients, and to share resources and updates on new developments in LGBT-related law. Legal aid advocates who are committed to effectively advocating for LGBT people and their families are invited to apply for membership. Attorneys from national, state and regional LGBT legal organizations who wish to communicate directly with a community of LGBT-supportive legal aid advocates are also invited to apply.

The Forum’s members include advocates with expertise in various aspects of LGBT-related law, including, but not limited to family, employment, health, immigration and domestic violence law. Legal aid advocates with no prior experience serving LGBT clients, but who wish to build their knowledge base and access related information, are also welcome. This listserv is administered by California Rural Legal Assistance and the National Center for Lesbian Rights with guidance and support from a committee of attorneys from New York Legal Assistance Group, Lambda Legal and Legal Services of Northern California.


Proyecto Poderoso's Lisa Cisneros Awarded Chicana/Latina Foundation’s 2009 Emerging Leadership Award

(San Francisco, CA, September 21, 2009)--The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) today announced that Chicana/Latina Foundation will honor NCLR attorney Lisa Cisneros with its 2009 Emerging Leadership Award. The Emerging Leadership Award is presented annually to young leaders committed to social justice and who have demonstrated their commitment with actions and deeds.


Proyecto Poderoso Staff Lisa Cisneros and Diana Oliva Featured on NPR’s “The California Report”

In 2007, NCLR and California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) launched Proyecto Poderoso (Project Powerful) to provide affordable legal services to low-income LGBT people in rural California. Through litigation, public education, technical assistance, and training, Proyecto Poderoso improves access to LGBT-specific legal services and improves the way rural communities treat LGBT people.

On Friday, March 27, National Public Radio’s “California Report” featured Proyecto Poderoso’s innovative work and profiled attorney Lisa Cisneros, community worker Diana Oliva, and a recent case. The piece sheds light on the problem of discrimination against low-wage LGBT workers in rural California, and the efforts of Proyecto Poderoso to ensure equal treatment of LGBT workers.

As described on the California Report website, “Many California farmworkers are so desperate to keep their jobs that they rarely complain when there's a problem at work. When those farmworkers are gay, lesbian, or transgender, they may face harassment or even earn less pay because of their sexual orientation. Now, a new project is helping them learn about their rights under California law.” You can view the photo slideshow here and listen to the audio here.

LGBT people are becoming increasingly visible in rural California. A Williams Institute analysis revealed that about 136,000 self-identified gay, lesbian, and bisexual people reside in rural counties. Rural gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities reflect tremendous racial and ethnic diversity, and about one-third of the population struggles with poverty. The population suffers pervasive discrimination and higher rates of unemployment, disability, and psychological stress compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Though the size of the rural transgender community is still being measured, CRLA has served a growing number of transgender clients. CRLA's transgender clients often encounter the most egregious discrimination.

Proyecto Poderoso will continue to improve access to justice. Please check our website to follow our work and cases.

Other highlights:

Since the launch of Proyecto Poderoso in 2007, NCLR, CRLA, and project coordinator Lisa Cisneros have reached many of its goals through capacity building, community education, and direct legal services.

Capacity Building

  • 113 CRLA attorneys, community workers and support staff trained in LGBT-related issues and law.

Community Education

  • 256 participants in rural community presentations on LGBT issues and law.
  • 9 Proyecto Poderoso media spots in Spanish, English and Mixteco (an indigenous language from Oaxaca, Mexico).

Direct Legal Services

  • 18 legal matters handled by project coordinator and Pride Law fellow Lisa Cisneros.
  • Legal issues addressed: sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, asylum and family law.

tips for legal advocates working with lgbt clients

Proyecto Poderoso helps legal services organizations to gain the specialized knowledge that is necessary to adequately serve LGBT people and their families. As a part of this effort, Proyecto Poderoso, in partnership with the Family Protection Project, a project of NCLR that improves access to family law services for low-income same-sex parent families, with a focus on serving families of color, created a tip sheet for legal advocates working with LGBT clients.

partnership with California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA)

CRLA is an ideal partner in this endeavor. Since 1965, CRLA has advocated on behalf of the state’s farm workers and rural poor. CRLA provides direct legal services, community education, and advocacy. There are 21 CRLA offices from Marysville in Northern California to El Centro on the US-Mexican border. CRLA is staffed with lawyers, community workers and clerical support.

media higlights

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