On May 18 and 19, 2015, the American Bar Association (“ABA”), the ABA’s Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (“SOGI”), and the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office (“GAO”) held the first ever ABA LGBT Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. The events were co-sponsored by the LGBT Bar.
The first day began with a White House Briefing in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Michael Bosworth, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Coun sel to the President gave opening remarks. Then, a panel gave a presentation and responded to questions regarding Federal LGBT laws, rights, and policy. The panel speakers included: Matt Nosan-chuk (who is also a former SOGI Stonewall Award recipient), Director for Outreach, National Security Counsel; Jeff Tiller, Special Assistant to the Press Secretary, White House Office of Communications; Diana Flynn, Chief, Appellate Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice; and Jay Gillam, Special Assistance, Office of the Senior LGBT Coordinator, U.S. Agency for International Development. The panel was moderated by Aditi Hardikar, Associate Director, White House Office of Public Engagement. After a rousing discussion, closing remarks were delivered by the dynamic Pam Karlan, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice (having taken leave from Stanford Law School for this position) and who is also a former law clerk to Justice Blackmun of the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”). What’s More, Ms. Karlan not only had the rare experience of having clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court, but also had overseen the submission of briefs. She also attended argument in the matter of United States v.Windsor with a team of Stanford Law students through the school’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.
After the White House Briefing, SOGI conducted its Spring Business Meeting at the ABA’s D.C. offices. The first day concluded with a reception at the law offices of Baker and McKenzie, which not only provided a warm welcome, but also an unparalleled view of the White House from its D.C. office balcony.
The second day of the ABA LGBT Advocacy Day was packed with House and Senate “Hill” visits by attendees with their local representatives. There were two specific bills presented for discussion: The Jury ACCESS Act (S. 447)/Juror Non- Discrimination Act (H.R. 864) (“Jury ACCESS Act”); and The International Human Rights Defense Act (S. 302/H.R. 590) (“International Human Rights Act”). First, the ABA supports legislation to prohibit exclusion of potential federal jurors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity via the Jury ACCESS Act. Specifically, 28 U.S.C. § 1862 already prohibits excluding potential federal jurors on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status. The Jury ACCESS Act proposes to include sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing list of discrete groups who are protected by the Jury ACCESS Act. As an example, the ABA points to the 2014 case of Smithkline Beecham v. Abbott Labs, 740 F.3d 471 (9th Cir. 2014). In Smithkline, the Ninth Circuit Court reasoned that permitting strikes on the basis of sexual orientation perpetuates the indefensible fiction that sexual orientation bears on one’s fitness to serve on a jury, and offends the foundational principle that all citizens should share in this duty and privilege of American citizenship. The ABA believes that the Jury ACCESS Act would ensure that every person’s right and responsibility to serve as a juror is protected.
Second, the ABA Supports legislation to end LGBT discrimination and protect human rights worldwide via the International Human Rights Act. Notably, nearly 80 countries around the world criminalize homosexuality, 10 of which have laws that provide homosexuality can be punished by death. Some of these laws have only recently been enacted. For instance, in 2013, India reinstated criminalization of homosexuality.
Similarly, Russia enacted an anti-propaganda law in 2013 to outlaw support of LGBT issues by its citizens. Nigeria and Uganda enacted laws in 2013 and 2014 which make homosexuality punishable by death. The International Human Rights Act would integrate the protection of LGBT people into U.S. foreign policy and would direct a coordinated response to address international violence and discrimination against LGBT persons through a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Peoples. The Special Envoy would operate within the U.S. State Department and advise the Secretary of State on LGBT issues, as well as coordinate international LGBT-related efforts between intergovernmental agencies, the federal government, and other non-governmental agencies. The ABA believes that the International Human Rights Act would build a framework to eradicate violence, human rights violations, and discrimination against LGBT people around the world.
The ABA LGBT Advocacy Day closing reception was held at the law offices of Arnold & Porter. Interestingly, at the reception, attendees learned that Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) had introduced his Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act to ban “conversion therapy” just that day while SOGI was on the Hill advocating for equal protection and treatment of all LGBT persons under the law.
The ABA’s first LGBT Advocacy Day was a decided success. SOGI looks forward to continuing to move the ball forward to ensure diversity, inclusion and full and equal participation by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the Association, the legal profession and society.
COURTENAY R. DUNN
Liaison, ABA Young Lawyers Division