Chicago-Kent Grad Receives Equal Justice Works Fellowship to Tackle Domestic Violence Issues Within LGBT Community

It was during his previous three internships at Legal Aid Chicago that Joey Carrillo ’21 found his passion for helping domestic violence victims find some safety.

“I never in my wildest dreams envisioned myself doing that type of work. It was hard, but it was so rewarding and it’s such good work,” Carrillo says of contributing to order of protection cases for the nonprofit’s Children & Families practice group. “It saves lives. We’ve had survivors that survived horrible, horrible incidents.”

Still, it occurred to him that there was one community, in particular, that wasn’t getting the service that it should.

While working a previous internship with the National Immigrant Justice Center, Carrillo helped people who were seeking asylum from persecution because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. But when it came to domestic violence victims walking through Legal Aid Chicago’s doors, he didn’t remember seeing any proportion that made sense.

Carrillo believed there was a reason for that.

“Domestic violence is (wrongly) considered heterosexual. People don’t think violence between same sexes is as serious. Often when police come, both [parties] get arrested,” Carrillo says.

That misconception is just as prevalent among judges and attorneys, Carrillo believes. During a Chicago-Kent College of Law seminar on domestic violence, he noticed stark statistical differences between the LGBT community and the general population.

“If you’re seeking an order of protection against someone of the same sex, the statistics are shockingly low because of our preconceived notions about gender roles,” Carrillo says. “Most people do not think of [domestic violence] in terms of a gay relationship. ‘You’re a man, you should be able to fight back’—this is the horrible bias people have.”

And for attorneys, Carrillo adds, “Having culturally responsive legal services means a lot of different things. You need attorneys that are trained and know the language. You need to be able to put yourself out there as an open and affirming lawyer that [clients] can trust.”

After he graduates from the Chicago-Kent College of Law this year, Carrillo will be going back to work at Legal Aid Chicago, this time on a fellowship that focuses on expanding the organization’s outreach toward LGBT domestic violence survivors.

The fellowship is through Equal Justice Works, which creates such opportunities by partnering with law firms and organizations to help fund them. Carrillo’s fellowship will be sponsored by the law firm Greenberg Traurig and Discover Financial Services.

Getting the fellowship took a bit of work: Carrillo drafted a lengthy proposal entitled “The LGBT Anti-Violence and Safety Project” and pitched it to Legal Aid Chicago. The organization was receptive.

“Better serving this population is something that has been on my wish list for years,” says Benna Crawford, director of Legal Aid Chicago’s Children & Families practice group. “LGBT youth are overrepresented in our client communities but underrepresented in our clients being served—especially when talking about youth of color living in poverty. It’s a real unmet need.

“We’re so excited to have an attorney of Joey’s caliber, not only because of his legal skills, but also because of the ways he can increase our cultural competency,” Crawford adds.

Says Carrillo, “As a member of the LGBT community, I feel honored and humbled to represent my own community and be the advocate that I wish I had growing up.”

In addition to client work, Carrillo will be tasked with approaching outside social service organizations. Those organizations that focus on LGBT clients will be urged to refer clients to Legal Aid Chicago, while those that don’t will be offered training on how to better handle domestic violence cases in the LGBT community.

As someone who wants to eventually be among the leadership team of a legal nonprofit, Carrillo says that when it comes to such organizations, “You have to be someone who is flexible and open-minded. Status quo doesn’t exist in the nonprofit world; it’s always changing. You’re always reorganizing to make it work.”

Born and raised in northern Illinois, Carrillo moved around Lake County with his family before graduating from Zion-Benton Township High School. He went on to graduate with a triple major in political science, philosophy, and Spanish from Elmhurst University in 2013. While he was interested in a law career, financially law school didn’t seem feasible. And Carrillo heard that getting some experience beforehand would help with the application process.

He started out working for Teach For America for a year, teaching high school Spanish in Gary, Indiana. But he knew teaching would require too much commitment to continue through law school.

His alma mater, Elmhurst, had a fundraising position open; Carrillo got the job and soon found that fundraising appealed to him.

“I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It’s sales for a good cause,” he says.

Carrillo eventually took a fundraising job with the Illinois Institute of Technology Office of Advancement, which allowed him to get free tuition at Chicago-Kent, where he started in 2017.

Two years later he became director of fundraising at Chicago Theological Seminary. He also sat on the board of another Chicago nonprofit, Illinois Leadership Seminars, helping with the organization’s fundraising.

“I’ve always been a person who sees everything as a new opportunity. For me, it’s less about the area of law and more about the organization I’m working for, the impact of the work,” Carrillo says. “I really am trying to keep it open, because I’ve learned you never know what you might find if you keep an open mind.”

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