June 01, 2017 Summer 2017

Section of Litigation Hosts Inaugural ABA LGBT Forum

The Section of Litigation made ABA history this past May in San Francisco when it hosted the Inaugural ABA LGBT Forum. The Section leaders began planning the Forum and then realized that this would be an ABA first. “We learned that no entity in the ABA had ever had an open enrollment welcome all new-comers conference focused on LGBTQ lawyers or issues, says Laurence Pulgram, Section Chair 2016-2017. “The genesis of this event was a desire to reach out to, connect with, and to include, in a public and uninhibited way, the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual or Questioning members of our profession. Diversity truly is core to what we do at the Section of Litigation.”

    The ABA LGBT Forum had a wide range of programming from CLE breakouts such as “LGBT Employees 101: A Practical Guide to Creating an Inclusive Workplace” and “Post-Obergefell: The New LGBT Cases after Marriage Equality.” The plenary addressed the “Views from the Corner Office: Tips from Managing Partners and Senior In-House Counsel” and “How to Handle a Hostile Political Environment: Advice and Tips from Official on How Attorneys Can Position Themselves to Navigate Hostile Laws Impacting the LGBT Community.”

    The Keynote Luncheon “LGBT Politics and Justice featured Tina Tchen, Assistant to President Obama and Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama and Hon. Therese M. Steward, California Court of Appeal Justice.

    “The Forum sought to provide the skills, the network, and the inspiration for LGBT lawyers and allies to be the best they could be,” Pulgram says. “We feel it succeeded on all fronts. With 260 registrants, remarkable esprit de corps, and a dozen energetic, packed programs on all kinds of timely topics, this was real value to attendees. Forum Co-Chairs Zesara Chan, Dalton Courson and Helen Casale did an amazing job. Above all, through the Forum the ABA reached out to the LGBT world, in its symbolic center of San Francisco, saying this particular part of the struggle matters to us, not just as another color in the kaleidoscope of diversity that is our profession, but as a specific and defined set of issues we embrace and fully support.”

    SOGI Commissioner, Ghenete Wright Muir, who also serves on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the Section of Litigation moderated the CLE panel: “In Transition: The Fast Evolving Law on Transgender Rights in Governmental Spaces.” The panel included SOGI Commissioner, Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights as well as Ilona Turner of the Transgender Law Center, Scott Wilkens of Jenner & Block LLP and Elizabeth Gill of ACLU of Northern California.

    “The Forum really focused on the substantive law for litigators but also focused a lot on mentoring and networking which I think is desperately needed for young LGBT lawyers. The outcome was very positive,” says Helen Casale, Forum Co-Chair. “We heard nothing but good things, and those in attendance seemed to just want more! I am hoping the ABA Section of Litigation will now make this, at least, an every other year event!”

    The genesis of this event was a desire to reach out to, connect with, and to include, in a public and uninhibited way, the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual or Questioning members of our profession. Diversity truly is core to what we do at the Section of Litigation. We’ve had extremely successful Women’s’ conferences before, and will again next November in Philadelphia. We’ve had conferences focused on racial and ethnic minorities before—in fact, we had one last November in Atlanta, the week after the Election. And while you might have thought people would be dejected or disillusioned on November 14, 2016 the energy at that conference, the Professional Success Summit, was the highest I had ever seen at any ABA event.

    At one point we had considered including LGBT issues with Summit, as there is much to share among different aspects of diversity. But as we (my Managing Directors, Nan Joesten and Ron Breaux) thought about it more closely, we ultimately concluded that it was time for the Section to do a full on, 86 proof, undiluted conference focused on LGBT issues alone. It was time for the Section of Litigation, with its 50,000 members, the largest, proudest subgroup within the ABA, to stand up tall for the LGBT community. Period. Full Stop. And where else than in San Francisco— where we could also connect the Forum with the Section’s Annual Conference.

    As we were well into the planning, we started to grok that this is not just a Section first. It is actually an ABA first. We learned that no entity in the ABA had ever had an open enrollment welcome-allcomers conference focused on LGBTQ lawyers or issues. And we said—it’s about time. Lucky us, to be in a position to help bring the ABA forward to a modern era of diverse sexual orientation. Lucky us to move beyond judgmental preconceptions, to honor the social, legal, and emotional needs of every gender identity.

    So the fact that the LGBT Forum and the Section Annual Conference do not merely abut, but conjoin at this luncheon, is itself symbolic.

    LGBTQ issues do not belong to some subset of our members, any more than racial diversity issues belong to some different subset, to be observed, or even endorsed, from a distance. Diversity, in all its dimensions, is everyone’s issues. LGBT issues are all of our issues. They involve fundamental questions of civil rights, personal autonomy, justice, and fairness. And today, in San Francisco, we embrace those issues as another key aspect of what we, as a Section and profession, adhere to, in our quest to Defend Liberty and Pursue Justice.

    After the fact thoughts: “The Forum sought to provide the skills, the network, and the inspiration for LGBT lawyers and allies to be the best they could be. We feel it succeeded on all fronts. With 260 registrants, remarkable esprit de corps, and a dozen energetic, packed programs on all kinds of timely topics, this was real value to attendees. Conference co-chairs Zesara Chan (San Francisco) Dalton Courson (New Orleans) and Helen Casale (Philadelphia) did an amazing job. Above all, through the Forum the ABA reached out to the LGBT world, in its symbolic center of San Francisco, saying this particular part of the struggle matters to us, not just as another color in the kaleidoscope of diversity that is our profession, but as a specific and defined set of issues we embrace and fully support.”

    I was so happy that I sort of got in blindly to this project. I wasn’t sure what impact it would have on the ABA and others but at the end I saw it as an amazingly positive venture. I think it brought a lot of exposure to the Section of Litigation and show cased some incredible speakers and extremely important topics. The Forum really focused on the substantive law for litigators but also focused a lot on mentoring and networking, which I think is desperately needed for young LGBT lawyers. The outcome was very positive. We heard nothing but good things and those in attendance seemed to just want more! I am hoping the ABA Section of Litigation will now make this, at least, an every other year event!

GHENETE WRIGHT MUIR
SOGI Commissioner