As a 6th generation Texan, Jodi Cole always felt conflicted. “I lived in Austin most of my life, but saw how gay people and women were treated like second-class citizens. I was ready to get out of here, but then I realized [the situation] can’t improve if everyone who would improve it leaves.”
Jodi, a criminal defense attorney and Texas Tech graduate well known for her defense of Bernie Tiede, knows law is her calling. As a member of the Capital Area AIDS Legal Project (CAALP) board, she works to coordinate volunteers specifically to help ASA clients through Volunteer Legal Services. She often works on cases involving denial of Social Security Benefits, landlord/tenant disagreements, or probate cases for creating wills.
“It’s actually really cool that we are now getting older people seeking help with wills and not seeing so many young people dying from HIV.” Jodi remembers how tough it was for her cousin Todd, who died in 1996 right before protease inhibitors were introduced. “He died in Dallas, but he was not supported by our family. People were not very compassionate because the disease carried stigma.”
In all that she has seen over the years, she knows that many people, even in Austin, act out of fear. “I remember reading about gay cancer in high school. It was fear that caused people to attack already vulnerable parts of society.” However, Jodi’s personal philosophy is to never throw in the towel. “We always focus on the bad but there’s a lot of good. Things always come back around. But you have to feel like it could change to change it.”
As a full-time attorney and a CAALP volunteer attorney, Jodi enjoys wearing both hats. “I love everyone at ASA and CAALP. Working with them is very stabilizing and gratifying. No matter how hectic my week is, it’s very calming to work on CAALP cases. I think CAALP serves not just ASA clients but enriches the lives of the attorneys that volunteer.”
Above all, Jodi stresses that the needs of the community are constantly changing. “CAALP is a great model for other disenfranchised communities in Austin.” While at one time Jodi thought about leaving, she now plans to stay in Central Texas to practice law as long as she can, hopefully changing some minds (and society) along the way. “The way to do our part is by staying.”