Pride Source Features SADO's Sofia Nelson - "People's Champ"

A Pride Source Magazine article features SADO’s Sofia Nelson as an assistant appellate defender and unspoken LGBTQ ally. Growing up, Sofia saw the satisfaction that her mother took from serving others in the nursing profession; she knew that she wanted to work in a profession where she could advocate for others. “It wasn’t about making money, but I grew up seeing that work can be more than that,” Sofia told Pride Source. “It can be something that fulfills your mission and passion in life and you can combine your politics with your work.”

Sofia grew up in a conservative West Michigan town. She went on to attend Tufts University and Yale Law School. Between college and law school, Sofia lived in Washington, D.C., and worked at the National Center for Transgender Equality. After law school, Sofia worked as a Skadden Fellow with the ACLU of Michigan for two years before coming to SADO.

At SADO, Sofia counsels and represents juvenile lifers, individuals who were convicted of homicide charges in their youth and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Following recent Supreme Court decisions, such individuals may now qualify for parole. “I don’t believe anyone is beyond hope,” says Sofia. She represents clients across the state, many of whom have been in prison for decades. Sofia explains to the courts and prosecutors “what happened to them as a child, and what they could do if they were allowed a second chance.”

Sofia draws from her own life experience in representing her clients. “As queer people, we know what it’s like to be judged unfairly. And I think it’s really important to approach every one of my clients with no judgment,” she says. Her life experience also helps her more directly in serving LGBTQ clients. “I don’t think [sexuality and gender identity] would come up with most attorneys. But I live in a glass closet so I don’t ever have to come out to my clients,” Sofia explains. “I just show up. And I think for some of my LGBTQ clients, it’s a relief to have an attorney they can talk to about that.”

While working at SADO, Sofia also takes every opportunity to support law reform organizations and to serve her community. “I do a lot of political stuff,” she says. “I really think it’s important to stay engaged.” Sofia came to SADO because providing direct service to her clients was a better fit for her than the broad impact work at the ACLU. Regarding her work at SADO, Sofia says that “there was never any question when I went to law school that I would be doing something like this. It’s why I went to law school.”

Find the entire article in Pride Source Magazine here.