Victor Manuel Marquez, SOGI Commissioner and former National President of the Hispanic National Bar Association from 2007. Mr. Marquez has been a strong advocate for immigrant rights as well as for the rights of lesbian, gays, bisexual and transgender ("LGBT") people. In 1999, Mr. Marquez founded The Marquez Group. The Marquez Law Group provides general business litigation, transactional real estate services to clients throughout California.
MD: Victor, congratulations on being one of four recipients of the American Bar Association’s 2016 Spirit of Excellence Award. What was your reaction when you learned that you were receiving this prestigious Award?
VM: Thank you, Marvin. And thank you for all the work you are doing within the ABA. I was ecstatic when I received a call from Will Gunn, the Chair of the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. I felt extremely humbled and honored to have been selected for the Award. It is truly a huge honor because it is coming from my peers. I genuinely feel that this recognition comes with even greater responsi- bility to raise my level of advocacy in advancing equal treatment and inclusion of diverse law students, young lawyers, as well as seasoned lawyers at all levels of our profession, including in the public interest arena, the judiciary, and academia.
MD: When and why did you decide you wanted to be a lawyer?
VM: I knew early on when I was just a teenager that I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up. When I was in Venice High School in West Los Angeles, I had the destiny of meeting Tom Bradley, the first black Mayor of Los Angeles. He was the first person who brought the legal profession onto my radar. I was an impressionable young boy trying to figure out who I was and where my life could take me. I walked up to him and introduced myself. My friends made fun of me for going up to the Mayor, and I was teased for talking to a black man. Race Relations at thetime were strained between African Americans and Hispanics in my neighborhood and our two respective communities were not really talking to one another. There were a lot of riots and fights between us. I always intuitively knew it was wrong. I remember asking the Mayor what he did for a living. He responded that he was Mayor. I said to him that I already knew he was Mayor, but I wanted to know what was his profession. He said that he was an attorney. Then I asked why “we” had never had a Hispanic Mayor since there were many Mexicans living in Los Angeles. His response was that I could become the first Latino Mayor of Los Angeles. I then told him that I did not think that is what I wanted to do, but that I would become an attorney just like him. He smiled and said, “You will.”
MD: In 1987 you earned your B.A. in Law and Society from the University of California at Santa Barbara. In 1990 you received your law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law. Where did you work after you passed the bar?
VM: I began my legal career as an associate attorney in 1990 working in the business real estate group of Gordon & Rees in San Francisco. In mid-1993, I decided to go to work in the public interest sector and took the position of Executive Director of S.F. La Raza Centro Legal providing legal services to the poor.
MD: Why did you start your San Francisco law firm?
VM: After considering returning to a mid-size to large firm, I decided to start my own practice to give me the flexibility to dedicate a good portion of my practice to providing legal services to individuals who might not otherwise be able to afford to pay. I also wanted to continue to work closely with the community and, in particular, non-profit organizations.
MD: You’re a strong advocate for immigrant rights and for the rights of lesbian, gays, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) individuals. Why are you passionate about these issues?
VM: I’ve lived the life of an im- migrant and I’m openly gay and married to my partner of 24 years. It is both who I am and what I am. I find intense gratification in knowing that not only am I giving back to my respective communities but that I’m constantly striving to find ways to reach across the aisle and work with as many diverse communities as I can. To me, it’s a calling and a duty to advocate and sometimes fight for a more inclusive tolerant society.
MD: What are some of the other issues that you’re passionate about as an attorney?
VM: One issue is mentoring. I’ve worked with dozens of law students, young lawyers, and my peers in helping to shape their professional careers. I’m also passionate about increasing diversity in the judiciary. I’ve also walked many precincts and contributed to elect many ethnically diverse women, men, and LGBT persons to office, in California and other parts of the country.
MD: You’ve been recognized as “One of the Most Influential San Francisco Bay Area Latinos” by the S.F. Chamber of Commerce and as “One of the Most Influential Hispanics in America” by Hispanic Business Magazine. You have extensive experience at providing government relations services at local and state levels throughout California. Why did you get involved with advocacy and lobbying work?
VM: There’s a huge need for people who come from diverse backgrounds to undertake advocacy work. “Growing up” professionally, I could count on one hand the number of ethnically diverse lobbyists in my area. There was and is a gap in this arena, and I feel compelled to try to make a difference to ensure some level of a fair playing field for our respective ethnic communities.
MD: Victor, you were elected as the National President of the Hispanic National Bar Association (“HNBA”) from 2007 to 2008. You were the first openly gay President of the HNBA and you established its LGBT Law Section. What path did you take to reach the Presidency of HNBA and were there any obstacles that you had to overcome?
VM: As a Latino openly gay man, I’ve encountered racism in the LGBT Community and conversely I have encountered homophobia in the Hispanic Community. I could have easily walked away, but I chose to stand up and “fight” for what I believe all people want, which is to be treated fairly for who they are and what they are. I’ve chosen to serve to help make a change for the better and I’ve wanted to pave a path so that others that follow will not have to face the level of blatant discrimination. I’ve had folks who were initially reticent to accept me for who and what I am, but who later come around to understand that in the end, we are all striving for a more inclusive and just society.
MD: You’re currently a SOGI Commissioner. Why did you become involved with SOGI?
VM: After working for over 20 years on advocacy within the Hispanic community and to some extent within the LGBT community, I felt it was time for me to devote more time to LGBT issues and to work on reconciling the gaps in advocacy between the LGBT rights and those of ethnically diverse communities. There’s a lot of work to do and I’m up for the task.
MD: What are some of the activities you’ve worked on for SOGI?
VM: I helped to organize the first Annual Advocacy Day on the Hill in 2015 to advocate at the White House and in Congress on LGBT issues. I’m a constant voice for inclusion of ethnically diverse points of view on our SOGI Commission as we work to expand the ever-evolving LGBT rights for us all, including advocating for transgender rights which continues to be one of the most disenfranchised parts of our LGBT family. I’m also extremely sensitive to issues affecting young LGBT members of our community.
MD: What do you think about SOGI’s accomplishments and its potential?
VM: We’re doing amazing, impactful work at the SOGI Commission. I’m blessed to be working with such a truly unequivocally committed group of distinguished and accomplished members of our community and allies. I’m touched by the passion and compassion of my colleagues, and the liaisons who are such a pivotal and active part of our Commission. And our staff is truly, truly amazing. While we’re doing incredible work, there is so much more to do. I welcome anyone interested to help advance LGBT rights to reach out to any one of us. We would love their support!
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY MARVIN S.C. DANG
Liaison to SOGI from ABA Senior Lawyers Division; Secretary, ABA Senior Lawyers Division, member, Council of ABA Fund for Justice & Education
THE EQUALIZER AN ABA LGBT PUBLICATION WWW.AMERICANBAR.ORG/SOGI