Student Spotlight

DeFazio ’18 Pursuing Her Law Degree While Advocating for the LGBTQ Community

Dena DeFazio ’18

By Sydney Sericolo
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Dena DeFazio ’18 decided to come to Albany Law from Niagara Falls, N.Y., in part after participating in LGBT Law Day on Albany Law’s campus in 2015. DeFazio felt a sense of community after attending what was considered the first day of its kind in the country. Taking part in the event also helped solidify her choice to join the Albany Law School community the following year.

Now, in her second year, DeFazio is the president of OUTLaw, which is a community of students dedicated to the inclusion and support of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) law students. They put on various educational and social events that range from educational events and panels, informal discussions, and an annual karaoke night.

Recently OUTLaw at Albany Law helped implement a gender neutral bathroom on the main floor of the 1928 Building. While there are gender neutral bathrooms on the upper floors of the building, it was important to the group to have one that is central and easily accessible, so that it is available during various community events and meetings. This was a project that both DeFazio and OUTLaw’s executive board wanted, given the intersection between social issues and the laws behind them.

“The Law Student Congress is the only national LGBTQ law students organization in the country,” said DeFazio, who chairs the Northern Regional Section.

“We asked for the bathroom last spring and the school was supportive. They agreed right away. The bathroom was an example of how Albany Law not only has nondiscriminatory policies but they match them with their actions. Being an ally is an action, not an identity. They’re proving to be an ally with support like this,” said DeFazio.

“I believe diversity and inclusion in the law school community is important. Diversity brings new perspectives and it benefits organizations, as well as disenfranchised communities, to include diverse groups of people,” said DeFazio. “The world is changing and the legal field needs to change along with it to be more encompassing of different types of people. Members of the LGTBQ community are at a higher risk for poverty, suicide, substance abuse, and mental health conditions, which are experiences that don’t always correlate with career success or law school. This is all the more reason to better support LGBTQ people and encourage them to take professional paths.”

One of the ways DeFazio works to support and encourage marginalized groups is through volunteering with youth at the Pride Center of the Capital Region in Albany. She learned of this opportunity when she attended the first LGBT Law Day back in 2015. She takes time each month to talk with 12- to 18-year-old youths to encourage them to strive for success despite feeling disenfranchised.

“Change starts from the ground up, so my goal in working with these young people is to show them they can be who they want, whoever that is. It’s important for me to tell them my story so they can hear from someone who has overcome obstacles and been successful,” said DeFazio. “Hopefully this inspires them to do the same.”

DeFazio also spent her fall semester working at the Government Law Center performing research and writing assignments related to business and business law, another area that interests her. One of the Government Law Center’s newest projects is called “Corporation in a Box,” which serves as a guide for individuals in the Capital Region to start a business. DeFazio worked on research for this project and was able to present her materials.

DeFazio also began a new role as the Northern Regional Chair of the LGBTQ Bar Association’s Law Student Congress in November. She applied and was selected to the Northern Regional Chair to represent Albany and other law schools with LGBTQ student groups. “The National LGBT Bar Association is for lawyers, judges, law students, and other LGBTQ organizations focused around the LGBTQ community. The Law Student Congress is the only national LGBTQ law students organization in the country,” said DeFazio. This association connects groups, like OUTLaw, between law schools. The LGBT Bar Association works on new projects to ensure that the LGBTQ community has a voice, and their diversity is celebrated and included in institutions like law schools.

DeFazio went to SUNY Brockport for her undergraduate degree and came into law school with a master’s degree in social work from University of Buffalo.

Dean Defazio