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Stacey L. Sobel had visited Philadelphia a number of times before to row on the Schuylkill River with her collegiate and club crew teams. Now she has returned, hoping to flex a little legal muscle as well. Sobel, 35, took over last week as executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, which engages in legal aid, education and policy work on behalf of the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons who face discrimination. She replaces Andrew Park, the center’s founder, who left to join Wellspring Advisors, a local consultancy that advises donors and small foundations on philanthropic activities. A graduate of the George Washington University National Law Center, Sobel previously served for 2-1/2 years as legal director of the Washington, D.C.-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a legal aid and watchdog group for members of the U.S. armed forces injured by the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on sexual orientation. “We are absolutely thrilled to have Stacey join the center,” said Marlene Olsham, co-chairman of the board and interim executive director from January to April. “She is bright [and] articulate, and she has the kind of background that we need. She has a passion for gay and lesbian rights, and she has an incredible wealth of legal knowledge.” Sobel said that while her primary responsibility at SLDN was overseeing case management for the organization, she was also involved in its educational, policy and fund-raising activities. All of those experiences, she added, will aid her in her expanded role as executive director of the civil rights center. The center provides legal services on a wide variety of issues relevant to the gay and lesbian community, including employment discrimination, custody battles and benefits for domestic partners. It currently has five full-time staff members, an average of 30 to 40 intakes a month and 60 docketed cases. In her week on the job, Sobel said she has focused on familiarizing herself with the organization and laying the groundwork for further strategic planning. Growth, it seems, is one of the center’s main goals. “One of the things I want to do is be sure we’re able to reach as many people in the state [as possible], including those outside Philadelphia, and make sure we’re reaching a wide diversity of people,” she said. Olsham also said that the center plans to expand its activities by bringing in several new fellows from various institutions from the next year to help with projects targeting domestic violence, hate crimes and custody issues. Sobel also wants to work with student advocates who volunteer for the center’s legal clinic, the only one in the state of Pennsylvania, she said, that is devoted to the needs of the gay and lesbian community. “The experience that students get when they work here is incredible,” she said. “They get hands-on work.” The Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights was founded in 1996. It will celebrate the fifth anniversary of its founding at a gala event at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts, which will doubly serve to honor Park and welcome Sobel to the organization.

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