For people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or queer, the past decade or so has brought tremendous progress in securing important rights and protections, said Davina Kotulski, an author, life coach, and psychologist based in Oakland, Calif.
Kotulski spoke to attendees at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the National Association of Bar Executives in San Francisco, providing an overview of important terms—such as the components of the LGBTQ acronym—of landmark decisions, and of how bar associations can make sure they are respectful and inclusive.
Among the more recent and well-known milestones, she said, was the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed same-sex couples’ right to marry and states’ obligation to recognize such marriages, thereby guaranteeing access to the 1,138 federal rights and hundreds of state rights that come with marriage.
To illustrate what some of those rights are and how their denial harmed many same-sex couples, Kotulski pointed to Flanigan v. University of Maryland Hospital System, a case based on an incident in 2000. While on vacation, one member of a couple who had a legally recognized domestic partnership in California became critically ill. A hospital in Maryland refused to recognize the partnership, which meant the partner who was healthy was unable to see his spouse, consult with medical staff, or make health care and end-of-life decisions. The hospital system prevailed in the lawsuit, as it was following procedures that were legal at that time.
Earlier this year, in Mississippi, the final law barring same-sex couples from adopting was struck down; however, Kotulski noted, some states still prohibit such couples from being foster parents.
As of the end of June 2016, she added, people who are transgender can serve openly in the U.S. military. Also pertaining to those who are transgender, the public restroom issue has been widely publicized. Offering a gender neutral public restroom is no small matter, Kotulski said: In general, she explained, those who are transgender are at risk for unusually violent hate crimes, and these have been known to occur when someone is perceived to be in the “wrong” restroom.
Why should bar associations stay current on such matters, and on terminology that continues to evolve? For one thing, Kotulski said, “Being LGBTQ crosses every aspect of life” and can curtail access to rights and privileges that others take for granted.
“Equality doesn’t have to be a ‘rainbow’ issue,” she stressed, meaning that it’s not just a concern for those who identify as LGBTQ. “Equality is a human rights issue.”