This year, GAYLAW, the national capital area volunteer bar association serving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (“GLBT”) lawyers, law students and legal professionals, celebrates its 20th anniversary. Over the years, GAYLAW has been a voice for LGBT attorneys and non-practitioners alike. GAYLAW’s history is marked with several significant events, and the current leadership has a goal of building on those accomplishments while honoring the efforts of those before them.
It all began in 1990, when members of the predecessor organization, the D.C. Bar Association’s Section on Criminal and Individual Rights, Lesbian and Gay Rights Committee (itself formed in 1980), decided to sever its formal administrative ties with the D.C. Bar and form GAYLAW as an independent, non-partisan D.C.-area GLBT bar association.
Despite the visibility and legitimacy formal association with the D.C. Bar provided, the founders of GAYLAW made the bold decision to distinguish themselves based upon the limitations on advocacy that relationship imposed, including limitations on filing amicus briefs, submitting testimony before legislative bodies and occasional pressure to tone down the group’s rhetoric. The founders had the foresight to recognize that a new and independent voluntary bar association could better pursue wider involvement in legislation and legal affairs that impact the LGBT community.
The founding leadership, including co-presidents Gigi B. Sohn and L. Benjamin Young, soon established several keystone projects that the organization has built upon through the years and continue today. GAYLAW’s Attorney Referral Service continues to connect clients with LGBT attorneys, having been moved online several years ago. GAYLAW’s Mentor-Mentee program continues to bring together law students with more experienced practitioners, its most recent class coming together at the beginning of the 2009-2010 academic year. And GAYLAW’s charitable arm, the GAYLAW Education Fund, continues to provide grants to legal interns working for nonprofits supporting the LGBT community, having just provided stipends to two legal interns working in D.C. this summer.
Despite having left the formal fold of the D.C. Bar, GAYLAW has continued to serve a very prominent role in the local legal community. Particularly notable is GAYLAW’s work in lobbying the D.C. Bar to undertake an examination of discrimination in the legal workplace. Thanks to the efforts of GAYLAW members, the D.C. Bar formed the Task Force on Sexual Orientation in the Legal Workplace, charged with studying the possible existence and extent of bias on the basis of sexual orientation in the legal profession. The Task Force’s work led to a monumental report issued in 1999 making recommendations for legal workplace reform to combat its findings of extensive discrimination.
Today, GAYLAW continues to work to advance the interests of the LGBT community, to be their voice within the legal community, and to improve their professional lives. GAYLAW conducts monthly networking events; recruits and trains volunteers to provide pro bono legal services for people living with HIV/AIDS through the Whitman-Walker Clinic; sponsors the D.C. Bar Candidates Forum and endorses candidates for local bar offices and the judiciary; and hosts continuing legal education programs, social activities and other membership networking events.
“We are extremely proud of GAYLAW’s accomplishments over the past 20 years,” said Glen Ackerman, GAYLAW’s co-president. “Our goal as the stewards of this legacy is to continue to meet the needs of our membership in this ever-evolving socio-economic climate.”
One way GAYLAW is adapting to address challenges currently faced by its membership is to provide support for those affected by the downturn in the economy. Last fall, GAYLAW hosted a seminar on dealing with the stress of losing one’s job, adapting to longer hours and transitioning jobs. This year, GAYLAW will be expanding its “Job Talk,” traditionally geared toward practitioners just entering the profession, to include tips and advice on interviewing techniques, cover letters and resumes, as well as alternative paths, geared toward more seasoned professionals.
“This is an extremely exciting as well as challenging time to be an LGBT attorney,” said Sharon Moore, GAYLAW’s co-president. “We are thrilled to be able to look back at the past 20 years and point to the many accomplishments of the organization, but at the same time we aren’t about to rest on our laurels. As part of our re-dedication to our mission, we are actively working at increasing participation by women and people of color, and boosting general and referral service membership. The board and membership are energized and devoted to continuing this work.”
Matthew R. Rudolphi, Esq., is a member of the executive committee on the board of GAYLAW and an associate at Duncan, Weinberg, Genzer & Pembroke, PC.