December 3, 2013
When Mona Moayad (’11) joined Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), she had to hit the ground running, and she hasn’t stopped running ever since.
For the past year-and-a-half, Moayad has worked at GMHC in its general civil litigation practice. It provides free legal services to people living with HIV/AIDS.
In her time there, she’s had to learn about the organization, its funding, and internal structure of the legal services department, as well as the nature of the disease itself. Prior to GMHC, Moayad had not worked in HIV/AIDS law before.
“I was lucky enough to get a social justice lawyering job here,” she says, crediting CUNY Law’s alumni network, “but I had to first do a crash course to learn about the disease. I was inundated with information to understand how HIV/AIDS attacks people’s health and may impact their cognitive abilities.”
Moayad’s cases range from landlord-tenant to employment discrimination matters, from basic estate issues to consumer debt issues.
The caseload in the civil practice fluctuates but averages about 20 clients per week between Moayad and another CUNY graduate, Dan Evans (’04).
“Our clients have severe, chronic mental-health issues, capacity issues, and current and prior drug abuse history,” she says. “Those issues can lead to unstable housing and family situations.”
One such case: a woman who was evicted from the apartment she had been living in for more than 30 years. By the time she contacted GMHC, she had been shuttling between a homeless shelter and her extended family’s home.
“She was one of the frailest people I have represented,” recalls Moayad. “It was a very tough case, but through a long, drawn-out series of court appearances we got her back in her apartment. It was very memorable because the client was extraordinarily happy at the end.”
Moayad got her taste for social justice after earning her undergraduate degree, then taking a job working for the Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. It provides services to immigrant women and girls fleeing gender-based violence.
“It opened my eyes to what a powerful tool the law can be to help others,” she says.
The initial spark for social justice, however, came from her own family, some of whom still live in Iran and are members of a religious minority known as the Bahá’í Faith.
“My family has faced extensive persecution in Iran because of our beliefs as Bahá’ís,” says Moayad. “So, as someone who has the privilege of living in the U.S., where I can freely express who I am and be allowed to pursue higher education, I feel like I have a responsibility to give back and continue the work that I do to improve the community.”
– Paul Lin