Fennemore Proudly Celebrates LGBTQ Pride Month

Fennemore celebrates June Pride Month 2022, and the LGBTQ change-makers at our firm, as well as in the ranks of our clients who push progress – and boundaries – by simply being their authentic selves. And although our country has come a long way since the Stonewall Riots of 1969, we still have a long way to go to ensure equality for all Americans.

Our culture of Diversity & Inclusion means that when all voices have a seat at the table, business blossoms, and the clients and communities we serve benefit from our expansive minds and creativity.

LGBTQ Pride Month is celebrated annually in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots and the efforts to achieve equal justice and equal opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) Americans.

In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month, we look at prominent LGBTQ attorney activists around the country and those who were “first” in their positions. In addition, we examine some of the most important and trending legal issues facing the LGBTQ community.

Deborah Batts was the first openly gay federal judge. She obtained her law degree from Harvard Law School in 1972. After serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney from 1979 to 1984, she began teaching law at Fordham University School of Law and was the school’s first African-American faculty member. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) suggested that she fill out an application to become a federal judge, but her application failed to progress through the presidency of George H.W. Bush. The administration thought that while she was “very nice,” she said in 2011, “my view of what a federal judge should be” was not their view. However, in 1994, President Clinton nominated her to a seat on the Southern District of New York, and she was sworn in that same year. Judge Batts passed away in 2020 after knee surgery complications. She is remembered as a trailblazer, a champion for justice, and a fighter for progress.

Maura Healy is the first openly gay State Attorney General, serving in Massachusetts. After graduating from law school, Healy clerked for Judge Mazzone of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. She then spent a number of years at a private law firm and was later hired by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley as chief of the Civil Rights Division. In her time in the Civil Rights Division, she was successful in the country’s first lawsuit in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. Healy was elected Massachusetts Attorney General in 2013 and re-elected as Attorney General in 2018. In January 2022, Healey announced her campaign for governor in the 2022 Massachusetts gubernatorial election.

Mondaire Jones is the first openly gay Black member of Congress. A native of Spring Valley, New York, he graduated from Harvard Law School in 2013. Jones began working in the U.S. Department of Justice and also provided pro bono legal aid through The Legal Aid Society. He won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020, becoming one of two of the first openly gay Black members elected to the House along with Ritchie Torres. The Congressman Jones came out at the age of 24 and has been named among the 50 heroes “leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people,” by Queerty.

Mia Yamamoto is a leading criminal defense attorney who is transgender. Yamamoto was born in a Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona during World War II. Her father was a lawyer who was excluded from the Los Angeles County Bar Association because of its standing as whites-only. This motivated Mia to pursue a career in law. Despite struggling with her gender identity, Mia enlisted in the army and would go on to receive multiple awards for her service. After her discharge, she enrolled at the UCLA’s School of Law. After graduation, Mia Yamamoto opened her own criminal defense law practice. During this time, she began to transition. This would also lead to her becoming an activist for the transgender community.  Yamamoto has received various awards, including the Spirit of Excellence award from the American Bar Association, the Trailblazer Award from the National Association of Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and the Rainbow Key Award from the City of West Hollywood. 

Chase Strangio came out as a transgender man during his time at Northeastern University School of Law. He worked as a public defender after law school and also co-founded the Lorena Borjas Community Fund. The organization started a bail fund for transgender immigrants. Strangio also joined a working group of lawyers who were drafting recommendations for President Obama’s Department of Justice on the incarceration of transgender people. He worked for the ACLU in 2013 where he served as lead counsel for transgender U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning. He has been named the ACLU’s most “most celebrated and popular lawyer” and has been awarded the American Bar Association’s Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’s 2020 Stonewall Award, as well as being named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in the world. 

The LGBTQ+ Bar

The LGBTQ+ Bar was founded over 30 years ago by a small group of family law practitioners at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. In 1987, the idea of creating a gay and lesbian bar association was formally introduced at the Lesbian & Gay March on Washington.

The first Lavender Law® Conference took place the following year at the Golden Gate University in San Francisco, and at the American Bar Association’s Mid-Year meeting in 1989, bylaws were presented, and a nonprofit board of directors was formalized. At the second board meeting in 1989 in Boston, the LGBTQ+ Bar, then known as the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association (NLGLA) started a campaign to ask the ABA to include protection based on sexual orientation to its revision of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct for Judges. In 1992, the LGBTQ+ Bar became an official affiliate of the American Bar Association and it now works closely with the ABA’s Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities and its Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

Legal Issues Facing the LGBTQ Community Today

Violence Against LGBTQ People. Violence against LGBTQ people has increased across the country, particularly for transgender people.

Workplace Discrimination. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted Title VII to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, there’s still no state-level protection for workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in more than half of the U.S states, and no gender-identity protection in 30 states.

Housing Discrimination. There’s no federal protection for housing discrimination, and just 22 states have laws prohibiting housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Plus, only 20 of the 22 states prohibit housing discrimination based on gender identity.

Religious Freedom Laws. Some states have passed laws that will allow churches and businesses to refuse service to gay people. Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis and the Colorado wedding cake baker made headlines. More of these disputes are expected as religious freedom laws work their way through courts.

While you may notice rainbows, balloons, and parades, June’s celebration is really a call for greater unity, visibility, and equality for the LGBTQ community. Celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month!

For more information on Fennemore’s culture of Diversity & Inclusion, please visit: https://www.fennemorelaw.com/about-us/diversity/ .