Managing Director, John McHugh Reflections on Pride Month

Managing Director, John McHugh Reflects on Pride Month

This year marks 24 years since President Bill Clinton officially designated June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month in recognition of the Stonewall Riots and gay activism throughout the years. In 2009, President Barack Obama chose a more-inclusive name, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.” We checked in with John McHugh, Office Managing Partner at Fennemore Denver and an active member of his community for a year-in-review and an update on his robust pro bono work for his community.

Q: You have a robust pro bono LGBTQ+ practice. Can you share some highlights of your pro bono work over the last 12 months?

Last year I mentioned a case where I represent a transgender woman who was denied a birthday cake because of her transgender identity. We had won our case at the trial court level and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court on all points. Later this month, I will be arguing that case before the Colorado Supreme Court. 

I also had the great honor to counsel the family of a transgender student caught in the middle of a media firestorm about a public school’s trans-inclusive policies. And I continue to advise the Center on Colfax, the largest LGBTQ community in the Rocky Mountain region, giving voice to Colorado’s community and playing a pivotal role in statewide initiatives to reduce harassment and discrimination. 

One of the most amazing parts of working on matters like these is that they don’t just have the immediate impact for the client and the LGBTQ+ community, but also have the potential to have a much broader impact on the interpretation of protections for all.

Q. Can you share how your background and experiences have shaped your approach to practicing law?

I was raised on a farm in rural Idaho, and I carry from that a particular work ethic and sense of justice. A lot of my passion for my work and my clients comes from being raised around people with strong convictions. This lived experience informs my practice for all of my clients and is obvious in my pro bono work. With everything the LGBTQ+ community has given me over the years, I feel it is necessary to use my law degree and experience to try and make this state and this country a better place for my local and distant LGBTQ+ community.

Q: Can you provide an update on some of the legal proceedings specifically involving the LGBTQ+ community in 2024?

In 2024 we continue to see the trend of state legislatures introducing record numbers of anti-LGBTQ+ and specifically transphobic laws throughout the country. We have seen significant success in the legal challenges to many of these kinds of laws. In particular, courts across the country are striking down laws that seek to prohibit or curtail access to transgender healthcare. Just this week, a judge in Florida struck down most of that state’s ban on gender-affirming care finding that the law was motivated by bigotry. We also got a great ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Massachusetts confirming that schools can ban students from wearing homophobic and transphobic clothing to school. 

Locally, I am encouraged by small, but significant steps like Judge Olafson in the Denver District Court implementing a civility and inclusivity order. Everything we can do to make the legal system more inclusive is a win not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but for everyone. We also saw proactive wins like the Department of Education finalizing a rule that Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination in schools includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Of course, challenges have already been filed, but the Department of Education’s final rule applies the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding that prohibitions on sex-based discrimination includes gender and sexual orientation in Bostock v. Clayton County.

Q: Do you have any new proudest moments that have been achieved over the last 12 months that you would like to share?

Whether it’s litigation over marriage equality, employment discrimination or businesses refusing to serve LGBTQ+ customers, I am always proudest of the incredible courage of my clients. They have been subjected to online harassment and death threats in addition to the regular stress of litigation. Each of them persevered and fought to make life better for our whole community. I am also proud of the Individual Leadership Award I received from the Denver Business Journal (DBJ) this month. DBJ’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Awards program celebrates those leading the charge in making their organization and the community in general more inclusive, so it is rewarding to be acknowledged for my efforts by the broader business community.

Learn more about Fennemore and its offices in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Washington and Texas at FennemoreLaw.com and our commitment to DE&I here.

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