June 01, 2017 Summer 2017

SOGI Commission's 10th Anniversary, a note from SOGI's first Special Advisor

When the Board of Governors created the Commission in 2007, it was both a recognition of the progress we had made in bringing LGBT rights into the mainstream of the ABA, and an acknowledgment that there was still much work to be done to achieve full inclusion for LGBT lawyers, law students, and legal professionals.

When I joined the effort as a young lawyer some 30 years ago, this was still an uncomfortable subject for many in our Association. From the beginning, we had devoted friends and allies who stood with us, but there were far fewer who were willing to embrace our cause than there are today. We lost many battles before we began to prevail.

In those early days, our home within the ABA was the Section of  Individual Rights and Responsibilities, and I was among the leaders of its Committee on the Rights of Gay People, as it was then known. (The section has since been renamed the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, and after several iterations, the committee is now the Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.)

Over time, the culture of the Association evolved, and many others took up the cause. This was in no small part due to the advancement of women and members of racial and ethnic minorities within the House of Delegates and the leadership. Eventually, acrimonious debates gave way to more thoughtful engagement with our concerns. We introduced, and the House employment, housing, and public accommodations, military service, marriage and domestic partnerships, adoption, child custody and visitation, hate crimes, and HIV and AIDS. ABA leaders testified in support of those policies on Capitol Hill, and we filed influential briefs in each of the leading Supreme Court cases on LGBT rights.

Most of those achievements were outward-looking. But we also turned our attention to creating a more inclusive environment for LGBT people within the profession. We began with a resolution urging the House to broaden the coverage of Goal III to include diversity and inclusion based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Once that was accomplished, we asked the Board of Governors to create a fourth Goal III commission “to promote full and equal participation in the legal profession by persons of differing sexual orientations and gender identities.”

It is a measure of our progress that, when I presented the proposal to the Board of Governors, it had the support of the president and a united ABA leadership. I do not recall any opposition.

For the first few years of the commission’s existence, I was honored to serve as its special adviser, and I have been gratified to watch it become a vital and dynamic part of the fabric of our Association.

I salute the Commission on this anniversary, and wish it continued success as it begins its second decade.

 

MARK AGRAST

Past SOGI Special Advisor