‘Caravan of Hope’ Offers Free Legal Advice to LGBTQ+ Community in Laramie

Philadelphia lawyer bringing cross-country RV tour to Wyoming on June 21 and 22

Angela Giampolo, a Philadelphia civil rights attorney, chats with a visitor during a stop on her Caravan of Hope tour. Giampolo is offering free legal advice to members of the LGBTQ+ community in Laramie on June 21 and 22. (Courtesy photo from Angela Giampolo)

By Jake Sorich

Special to the Wyoming Truth

For Angela Giampolo, the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard was one of the major events that inspired her to pursue a career in law.

“It gives me chills every time I think about what he died for,” Giampolo, a Philadelphia-based civil rights attorney, told the Wyoming Truth. “Because of that, I went to law school, and all these years later, I’ve worked to do my part so one day being yourself doesn’t have to be an act of bravery where you’re potentially risking your life.”

Shepard, a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten, tortured and left to die near Laramie in what was later defined as an anti-gay hate crime committed by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.

In 2016, Giampolo, 43, came up with the idea for a “Caravan of Hope”— an RV tour of middle America that would take her to Laramie and enable her to offer free legal advice to members of the LGBTQ+ community. In rural areas, Giampolo said it can be difficult to find lawyers to take cases to assist LGBTQ+ people.

Angela Giampolo files paperwork during her 13-city tour across the country, which stops in Laramie on June 21 and 22. Through the Caravan of Hope, she is providing free legal advice to members of the LGBTQ+ community. (Courtesy photo from Angela Giampolo) 

“I’ve been so busy doing work here, working with clients regionally, that I just have not had time to get on the road until now,” she said.

Giampolo started to crowdfund for the trip, but then she found one large sponsor who paid for most of the journey and self-funded the rest. She kicked off the caravan earlier this month at the Philadelphia Gay Pride celebration.

In addition to Laramie, the Caravan of Hope will make stops in 12 cities, including Pittsburgh; Chicago; Birmingham, Alabama; Memphis, Tennessee; Arkadelphia, Arkansas; and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along her trek, Giampolo will assist with legal name changes, adoption petitions and amicable divorces, as well as provide advice on steps to take if faced with workplace discrimination.

Chance Wolf, 30, a Laramie bartender, said Giampolo’s visit could offer a huge boost to the LGBTQ+ community.

“In a place like Wyoming, it feels good to see her doing this,” said Wolf, who was concerned about his safety after enduring a customer’s anti-gay comments. “There is a lot of fear, and that fear holds people back. When I hear what Angela is doing, I think it can give people in the LGBT community more confidence to come out in public.”

Wolf said he sees a lot of people who are suspicious of or fear/hate LGBTQ+ people in Laramie, so Giampolo’s upcoming visit brings him hope.

“It’s a slow process, but a little hope can go a long way,” he said. “Sometimes you have to create that hope, and it’s amazing that Angela is bringing it here to Laramie because it’s not easy to do. There [are] quite a few people who are afraid of simply being who they really are in public.”

Risks, rewards along the way

Giampolo teared up when asked about her hopes for the 4,598-mile, month-long journey that wraps up on June 30. 

“I’m looking forward to going through all the different cities and meeting … those folks from small towns I’ve thought about for years and listening to them tell their truths about what they’ve gone through,” said Giampolo, who is traveling with a driver and assistant.

Giampolo said she realizes she may face threats or even potential violence, but she said she’s pushing onward publicly because she wants to inspire hope without caving to fear. 

“You have to go hard or go home,” she added.

After returning to Philadelphia, Giampolo will offer free legal assistance via Zoom for two weeks to LGBTQ+ community members from the cities she visited.

In the nearly 25 years since Shepard’s death, Giampolo acknowledged that much has changed for LGBTQ+ people, including the right to marry. The latest Gallup Survey found that a record 71% of Americans now approve of gay marriage.

Still, Giampolo said there is still a long way to go on the road to equality for the community.

“Sometimes it feels like we take two steps forward and four steps back,” she said. “I call it the political pendulum, and it can be hitting you upside the head depending on which way the political winds blow. But it’s been that way for a long time. It’s just really exacerbated right now.”

Johno Green, 32, of Rock Springs, agrees with Giampolo. “I know there’s still hesitation around coming out or being gay in Wyoming still today,” he said. “My partner and I, we don’t hold hands in public, but like in Utah or Colorado we will. But I do feel comfortable in my town. Not everyone does, though.”

“I think anytime someone comes to help us in Wyoming, it shows people elsewhere do care about what we’re going through, and that feels great,” he added.

The Caravan of Hope will be at Depot Park in Laramie on June 21 and 22. For more information, visit www.caravanofhope.lgbt.

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