“Well you put it on here. So what’s that about?” the interviewer asked as he tossed my resume on the table. An awkward moment of silence followed, made exponentially worse by his gaze. It could only be described as conveying amused contempt and pity. I finally realized that he was referencing my professional affiliations with LGBT-focused law organizations. I did not hold my breath waiting for an offer.
Despite increasing calls for diversity in the legal profession, LGBT attorneys confront challenges at every level of their personal and professional lives. Attorneys who do not have a conventional sexual orientation or sexual identity often find themselves fighting to establish their role and identity with clients, colleagues, and even themselves.
As a gay attorney, I have struggled with presenting my identity in a world that sees sexual orientation as an inappropriate subject to discuss at all. The most salient experience I had in this regard was during that first interview. Having conquered my inner struggle to become comfortable with my sexuality, a Herculean task within itself, I did not hesitate to include leadership positions within OUTlaw, an LGBT affinity law student group, on my resume.
As I entered the conference room, I took a deep breath and reassured myself that I was ready. My resume was complete and my preparedness and passion would undoubtedly shine through during the interview.
A tall, stern man with an authoritative presence stood before me. I approached him extending a firm handshake and introduced myself. It was perfect, just as I rehearsed in the mirror several times that morning.
The lawyer sat in his chair across from me and reviewed the stack of resumes on the table. He leaned back, adjusted in his chair, and conspicuously sized me up. As he cleared his throat to ask the first question, I thought to myself, “I’m ready. There is nothing he can ask me that I have not anticipated”—except for what came next.
Unfortunately, my experience is all too similar to many interactions in the legal profession. Far too many lawyers live in a world in which sexuality is not an identity but a secret one is supposed to keep hidden.
Organizations such as the National LGBT Bar Association work to correct this culture and highlight the importance of diversity in the legal community. By offering LGBT attorneys and straight allies a forum to voice their perspectives, advocate for issues pertinent to the gay community, and cultivate professional relationships, the LGBT Bar advances justice in and through the legal sphere.
Through my involvement with the LGBT Bar, I have seen firsthand how events such as the Lavender Law Conference and Career Fair and Out & Proud Corporate Counsel Award Receptions promote LGBT equality.
The 2012 Annual Lavender Law Conference and Career Fair, to be held in Washington, D.C., August 23–25, brings together hundreds of LGBT legal professionals, law students, and judges. Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States, will be this year’s keynote speaker. Lavender Law provides a sense of community and inclusion for legal-minded individuals within their profession.
Lavender Law illustrates the importance of the LGBT Bar’s commitment to diversity. When people of all backgrounds believe they have a voice, speak frankly, and offer suggestions on issues like sexual orientation, the impetus for change increases as people are more open to challenging messages. For this reason, the LGBT Bar, in partnership with the American Bar Association, is at the forefront of advocacy for diversity, inclusion, and equality.
The Out & Proud Awards honor legal professionals who advance LGBT equality through words and actions to create more secure and welcoming workplaces. The awards illustrate that any person, regardless of race, background, or sexual orientation, can make a difference in his or her company. Individuals then feel vested in the success of diversity efforts and are willing to discuss openly changes that should be implemented.
For the LGBT community, this type of open and inclusive dialogue is paramount because we face many extremely complicated challenges every day. Moreover, some straight colleagues’ insensitivity toward the unique issues faced by LGBT lawyers is often not due to willful ignorance, but rather to a lack of opportunity for learning about and understanding diverse perspectives. This makes all-embracing dialogue and candor invaluable. As Brian Bond said, “Rights for gays and lesbians are not special rights in any way. It isn’t ‘special’ to be free from discrimination—that is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship.”
Thus far, LGBT attorneys have made significant progress by working alongside straight allies; yet many challenges still remain. I am proud to be affiliated with professional organizations like the LGBT Bar and the ABA. It is inspiring to know that these two organizations provide an inclusive platform to discuss relevant legal issues and ensure that the LGBT community has a voice. My hope is that, in the future, interviews like mine will become obsolete, and LGBT legal professionals will be able to embrace their identity.