The National Lesbian and Gay Law Association (NLGLA) is an association of lawyers, judges, law students, activists, and affiliated lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender legal organizations dedicated to promoting justice and improving the quality of life for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. The organization can be traced back to the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, where a core group of legal professionals came together in the District of Columbia with the desire to create a national lesbian and gay bar association. The organization quickly took off.
In November 1988, the NLGLA sponsored its first Lavender Law® conference, promoting awareness of civil rights and LGBT issues. A year later, at the American Bar Association (ABA) Mid-Year meeting, NLGLA members drafted bylaws and formalized a nonprofit board of directors. By its second board meeting in 1989, NLGLA had 293 paid members, and initiated a campaign to ask the ABA to include protection based on sexual orientation in its revision of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct for Judges, which has now been accepted by several states.
In 1992, the NLGLA gained a seat in the ABA House of Delegates. Obtaining the seat was a tough fight that was won by amending the ABA Constitution to recognize the NLGLA as an affiliated organization of the ABA. Today, the NLGLA works directly with the ABA Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities (IRR) and its Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The NLGLA has presented educational programs at ABA meetings on transgender law, legal protections against bullying LGBT youth, and many others.
In 2005, the NLGLA moved into the offices of Jenner and Block in Washington, D.C., thanks to the generous support of Paul Smith, managing partner of the D.C. office, and Gail Morse, tax partner in Jenner’s Chicago office.
Each year, the association organizes the only national LGBT legal career fair. The event in 2007 in Chicago was the largest in its history. NLGLA Executive Director D’Arcy Kemnitz is amazed by its growth. “When NLGLA began its first career fair, there were a couple of dozen recruiters, and the vast majority were LGBT advocacy groups seeking attorneys. This last year, the career fair featured 156 recruiters, the vast majority of which were AmLaw 100 firms.”
In 2007, the association also hosted the first-ever reception for “out” in-house counsel and celebrated the addition of its 25th affiliate within its network of voluntary LGBT bar associations. This year, it celebrates its 20th anniversary of Lavender Law®, which will feature two dozen workshops on cutting-edge legal issues affecting LGBT individuals and the community.
Kemnitz began her work with the NLGLA as a volunteer and fundraiser for the 2000 conference in Washington, D.C. During her tenure, she has seen enormous growth within her organization and its affiliates. “We’ve seen explosive growth in local and regional LGBT voluntary bar associations. For example, Missouri now has two LGBT voluntary bars—one in St. Louis and one in Kansas City. When we started in 1988, there were some local bars in major metropolitan areas like New York or San Francisco, but to see bars come together in areas like Missouri, and to then to see two of them there, is pretty exciting.” In addition to these regional and local associations, the NLGLA now boasts more than 130 law student associations.
Each year, the NLGLA honors straight legal professionals who, in their position of leadership, have allied with the LGBT community and have made a noteworthy contribution to the struggle for civil rights and equality before the law. Last year’s awardees were William H. Neukom, American Bar Association president, for his leadership in developing the new ABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, for his courageous decisions in support of equal legal rights for LGBT couples.
The NLGLA’s Law Student Division organizes an annual writing competition. In 2007, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the competition increased its cash prizes, and rather than one cash award, the competition now offers three awards of $1,000, $2,500, and $5,000 to three winning law students. All of the students attend the annual Career Fair and Conference as guests of the association, and the piece written by the top prize recipient is published in Tulane’s journal of Law and Sexuality.
As the NLGLA looks ahead, it will continue to live and work with other voluntary bar associations and law firms to advance its vision statement, namely to improve the quality of life for LGBT legal practitioners until the time that LGBT legal professionals are recognized without discrimination, stigma, or negative bias. It hopes that its next 20 years will be as successful as its first 20. DB
Calendar of Upcoming NLGLA Events
September 4-6, 2008
20th Anniversary Celebration
November 18, 2008
New York “Out” In House
*This event is being held concurrent with the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s Creating Pathways to Diversity© Conference
Francisco Ramos Jr., Esq., is a freelance writer and partner at the Miami-based offices of Clarke Silvergate Campbell.
From the May/June 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®