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GLAD Answers: Meet Volunteer Marjorie Charney

When Marjorie Charney moved to Boston in 1983, she didn’t expect she’d someday become a volunteer at GLAD – in fact, she was just learning from her new community the difference between GLAD and GLAAD. But learn the difference she did, and she came to love the organization GLAD and all it does. We sat down with Marjorie to chat about her experience with GLAD Answers.

How long have you been a volunteer?

2 years

What are some of the things that you do when you come in to the office?

(First we) log on to the system both the database…Then we look for pending cases where there need to be answers made or letters written and we divide them up between ourselves and answer those. Then the phones start ringing and we just count off and answer the phones.

How many calls typically come in during a shift?

It varies widely, we’ve had anywhere from 2-10. If there’s something really exciting happening like DOMA getting shut down we can expect a lot of call about Social Security and filing taxes, things like that.

What would you say most motivates you to do this work?

It’s being a part of the community. It keeps me at the forefront of what’s going on – I’m not a big reader. And the older I get the more I’m driven by the need to be with people and work together and discover together.

Usually you have a given day of the week that you volunteer so you have a group that you’re a part of and everybody kind of gets to know each other. Today we have a very humorous group – a lot’s going on in there.

We just got a new load of volunteers, there’s trainings twice a year in October and May and that adds a whole new slew of volunteers. So we have one new person in there today and we now have a fifth computer, and I don’t know how Daniel pulled that off. They did a good job.

What are some personal goals you most want to accomplish in your work with GLAD Answers? You mentioned ‘community’ before…

Well basically, that’s just it, you know, just being with people and pulling together to get the same equal rights for all GLBT people and again, it puts me at the forefront of what’s going on and it’s really fun to be here.

What made you decide to volunteer for GLAD Answers?

I had recently retired and I was looking for things to do and I knew that this was one of the things I wanted to do. I was a paralegal for about 5 years and I just thought it would be a nice combination of things. And since then I’ve gotten on the board of another non-profit that provides resources to women with HIV. It’s just finally being able to do, in retirement, my heart’s desire – whatever it is, and to do something meaningful…I used to be in the auto-business for 30 years and that was fun, it was really fun, but I wanted to do something meaningful.

How does the work of GLAD and/or GLAD Answers effect or impact your life?

I’m pretty ensconced in the community, so it just really enriches my community experience. I’m part of a motorcycle club, all women, and many, many gay women and we lead Pride every year and we do a lot of fundraising around town, and being at GLAD really enriches that.

What has surprised you most about working with GLAD?

Well, this is interesting. I used to live in Seattle and I volunteered at another hotline and I would be the person that would give the answers out on the hotline – and again it wasn’t giving legal advice it was just providing resources. But I wasn’t able to provide all the resources right then and there and I got really bogged down and immediately I left the hotline and started doing editing for them and other things that were more up my alley. But the thing about volunteering for GLAD is you don’t have to know anything. All you have to do is get the facts straight and you can provide a little bit of resources but then you provide everything to Daniel and the attorneys and you get answers back and just the way it’s streamlined, the way it’s set up it feels like a lot more closure and that things get handled more quickly and I’m really impressed with the way the whole hotline runs.

What’s the best thing to happen in the LGBT world since you started working with GLAD?

Marriage equality, of course. I wasn’t here for the first marriage equality in 2004 of course, but I live in this little neighborhood and like 3 out of my 4 friend-couples got married right away.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering?

It’s really great, you don’t have to be afraid of not knowing the right answer, all you have to do is show up. And it’s very gratifying, tons of support.

What do you do when you aren’t volunteering?

I’m secretary of the motorcycle club. I teach motorcycle safety. I do singing for seniors on Friday morning. I’m on the board of an organization called Healing Our Community Collaborative, which is a resource organization for women with HIV or their allies. And I’m very social, as I’ve grown older it’s more and more important to me to just hang with people and develop relationships and show up and be there, and I also am taking a lot of Buddhist classes in meditating. So I’m busier now than I’ve ever been, and it’s great.

Did you have any key LGBT mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life?

Well, of course Mary Bonauto, she’s just my idol and I look up to whatever she’s written and wherever she speaks. All the other attorneys, like Roberta Kaplan, who have represented people (for) marriage equality. A lot of GLAD people – Jennifer Levi – they’re all pretty amazing.

Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to be doing what you’re doing today? You mentioned retirement was a sort of catalyst that brought you here…

Yeah, you know, retirement isn’t a milestone, it’s really a huge transition to whatever the next step is, maybe it’s death – I don’t know, but it changes so much all the time. So, no life changing experiences except for becoming a crone and loving it.

Do any metaphors come to mind to describe the kind of work you do, especially in this project?  Like a conductor, or a coach, etc.?

I would just say a compassionate ear.

What’s next for you?  How does your work with GLAD Answers fit into that?

I’ve always wanted to be affiliated with GLAD. I’ve been in Boston since ’83 and I’ve just always loved GLAD. I don’t expect probably to continue volunteering here forever, but another thing I want to do is hospice.

ga-volunteers-with-danielPublic Information Manager Daniel Weiss with GLAD Answers volunteers Marjorie Charney, Alex Cottrill and Jamie Hagen

Marjorie is one of 33 current GLAD Answers Volunteers, who staff the call-room 15 hours per week. In the last year, GLAD Answers has fielded 1,981 unique intakes, not including follow-up contacts with those individuals.