January 01, 2016

From the Chair

Greetings! Welcome to The Equalizer, the newsletter of the American Bar Association's Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI)!

First, allow me to introduce myself. I was privileged in the Fall to take over as the new Chair of the SOGI Commission. After 25 years as a family law litigator, I recently accepted a position as the new Deputy General Counsel for the Oregon State Bar. As a family law attorney, I have been involved with the legal issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity for many years.

2015 was a truly remarkable year for LGBT rights. The first edition of The Equalizer celebrated the historic Obergefell marriage decision, and since then the Federal government has been proactive in providing further protections to LGBT Americans, including a directive from the Department of Justice confirming that married same-sex couples would receive all federal benefits regardless of their states of residence; an EEOC decision in Baldwin v. Foxx, which found that sexual orientation discrimination in employment is a form of sex discrimination and is prohibited under Title VII; and the White House’s support for the Equality Act, a federal bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public accommodations, federally funded programs, and jury service.

Notwithstanding these successes, we still have many battles to fight at both the state and federal levels:
Many States are gearing up to try and pass so called Religious Freedom Acts that would, in many cases, allow open discrimination against LGBT persons.

Our LGBT youth still face terrible bullying, educational, and homelessness issues.  Additionally, while a few states have addressed the issue of "conversion therapy" by passing bills to ban this discredited practice, the federal companion bill has stalled.

Our transgender family continues to face even greater challenges. The Department of Defense’s extended non-discrimination protections did not include transgender individuals, and Houston voters rejected moves to enact protections for transgender and gay people after a divisive campaign that lasted more than a year and portrayed the LGBT community as “bathroom predators.”

The SOGI Commission is dedicated to combating these and other issues still facing the LGBT community. In this newsletter you will read about just a few of the projects and programs the commission is working on. In addition, here are just some of the other things that are going on that you should know:

Model Rules of Professional Conduct: We continue in our efforts to amend the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to prohibit discriminatory conduct by attorneys, including harassment and intimidation as a form of bias. Harassment and bullying of witnesses, employees, and opposing counsel on the basis of sexual orientation and other protected categories should not be tolerated. SOGI Commissioners, liaisons, and friends will attend another open hearing at ABA Midyear, hosted by the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, to argue the case for change.

Publications: “Out and About,” our publication in partnership with the National LGBT Bar Association, which shares the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender attorneys, academics and jurists in the profession, was released in September 2015 and available for order at the ABA web store.

Law Students: We are continuing our efforts at securing inclusion and recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender law students through revisions to Law School Standard 206. SOGI is working with the Commission on Disability Rights to ensure that law school admissions policies reflect the ABA’s Goal III.

We on the SOGI Commission continue to work hard on behalf of the LGBT community. In its young life, the SOGI Commission has established itself as one of the most influential bodies within the ABA, and we look forward to continued success. We have been and will continue be instrumental in directing both internal and external ABA policies and leading efforts for full LGBT inclusion.

If you are interested in being a part of this very exciting and essential work, please do not hesitate to contact me, or any member of the Commission, our liaisons, or our outstanding staff.

Onward!

MARK JOHNSON ROBERTS

Chair, ABA Commission on
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

THE EQUALIZER    AN ABA LGBT PUBLICATION    WWW.ABAR.ORG/SOGI