June 01, 2016

Our Thoughts, Our Deeds

From Stonewall to Pulse, before, in between, and right now, LGBTQ people have been and are looking for safe spaces, for places where we could be known as ourselves. On June 12th, we awoke to the reminder that our spaces are not safe. That being who we are is not safe. For many of us this was a shock. It tore down the celebration-filled walls we were building up from all our victories. But, in each month of 2015 at least two LGBTQ people or people living with HIV were murdered in hate violence in the U.S. The majority were people of color. The majority were transgender or gender non-conforming. The majority were both. We received these statistics from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs two days after the hate violence murders of LGBTQ people had already doubled for 2016. The horrifying murders at Pulse in Orlando happened on Latin Night. The vast majority of people murdered that night were Latino. We know that people with multiple intersecting marginalized identities are targeted for violence more often than those without. The victims and survivors in Orlando and all the others deserve our thoughts, but also our deeds.

As attorneys, we can work toward ending this violence by understanding our clients’ multiple identities and how they impact and shape the cases we work on. If we can’t understand that our clients may not have the money to make it to our office for a meeting or that when they get there they may have to provide security an ID that doesn’t match the way they look and who they are, then we will not be able to effectively represent them. We will contribute to the problem. According to a national survey conducted by Lambda Legal, 19 percent of LGBT-identified people reported that they had heard discriminatory comments about sexual orientation or gender identity in the courtroom. Sixteen percent reported that their LGBT identity was raised in court when it was not relevant. Those numbers increase dramatically when it comes to the responses of LGBT people of color. For transgender and gender nonconforming people of color surveyed, 53 percent reported hearing discriminatory comments in the courtroom.

Allowing this to continue, unchecked, creates situations of extreme danger for our clients and for pro se litigants, witnesses, and jurors in the courtroom. Understanding our clients and advocating for basic fairness is not all we should do, but it is something we can do right now. We must turn sorrow and anger into actions large and small that add up to a daily push for security, equality, and dignity.

Ethan Rice

Ethan Rice is the Fair Courts Project Community Educator for Lambda Legal, the oldest and largest national legal organization committed to achieving full recognition of the rights of LGBT people and people affected by HIV. The Fair Courts Project focuses its work on issues of judicial independence, judicial diversity, access to justice, and combating bias in the legal system.