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Big Law Celebrates LGBTQ Pride, Confronts Ongoing Challenges (1)

June 13, 2019, 6:18 PMUpdated: June 13, 2019, 6:28 PM

Big Law firms are flying rainbow flags across the country this month to celebrate LGBTQ Pride within their ranks, recognizing both the progress made for LGBTQ rights and the work still left to be done.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, when members of the New York LGBTQ community took to the streets to protest a violent police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. The riots became a catalyst for the LGBTQ rights movement, and Pride month is now observed each June to commemorate the event.

Law firms are observing Pride through office celebrations and fundraisers to benefit LGBTQ advocacy groups. They’re also hearing from outside speakers and helping the community through special pro bono initiatives.

While Big Law often lags behind corporations in gender and racial diversity and inclusion initiatives, law firms outperform the corporate world when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion.

Of the AmLaw 200 firms, 114 received perfect scores in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2019 Corporate Equality Index. In order to receive a perfect score, firms must fulfill nine criteria, including prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, providing equal health coverage for transgender individuals without exclusion for medically necessary care, and offering distinct outreach or engagement efforts to the broader LGBTQ community.

Law firms have made steady progress over the past ten years: in the 2014 Corporate Equality Index, 80 of the AmLaw200 firms earned a perfect score, and in 2009, only 62 did.

Parties and Fundraisers

Cadwalader was among the major firms to mark Pride with a party this month.

The firm hosted its second annual FABULOUS party on June 12 in its New York office, featuring an array of rainbow snacks, decorations, and a photo booth. “We wanted to celebrate what we have achieved, and to honor the long legacy and bold impact of LGBT legal activism,” said Linda Swartz, partner sponsor for the firm’s LGBT Network.

Attendees heard from guest speakers Currey Cook of Lambda Legal and Janson Wu, the executive director of GLAD. Both groups advocate for LGBT rights in the courts.

Goodwin Procter employees at the firm’s office in Boston were welcomed into a Pride party under a giant rainbow balloon archway. “Goodwin is demonstrating Pride with increased fervor, with events in all of our global offices, firm wide communications and a robust pro bono program in addition to our ongoing Pride initiatives,” said James Mattus, co-chair of the firm’s Pride@Goodwin initiative.

Of course, law firms aren’t just celebrating during Pride month. They’re also acknowleging the progress yet to be made. Around the U.S. and the world, members of the LGBTQ community continue to face harassment, discrimination, and violence.

‘It Gets Better’

Many Big Law firms have hosted fundraisers for legal organizations that defend LGBTQ rights. Cadwalader held a firm-wide fundraiser in early June to support Lambda Legal, and Reed Smith has hosted a fundraiser benefiting the TREVOR project, a suicide prevention network for LGBTQ youth.

Several law firms, including Steptoe & Johnson and Dechert, are hosting presentations by Judy and Dennis Shepard, who created the Matthew Shepard Foundation in honor of their son, who was killed in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998. His murder prompted a worldwide response in support of LGBTQ rights.

On June 6, attorneys from Nixon Peabody partnered with the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, hosted a pro bono transgender name change clinic to help low-income transgender individuals change their legal names.

The firm also partnered with the It Gets Better Project, a nonprofit that seeks to empower and connect LGBTQ youth, to create a video featuring the stories of Nixon Peabody’s LGBTQ lawyers. Seth Levy, a partner in the firm’s Los Angeles office, founded the organization and is now its chairman and CEO.

“It’s remarkable how much progress has been made,” Levy says in the video. “Perhaps the speed with which a lot of these things have happened is now causing that much more of a backlash. The story is not yet fully written. A lot of our rights still hang by one court decision.”

“There’s a lot of work left to do,” he added. “But I’m incredibly encouraged by where we are and where we’re going.”

(Added information about law firms in the equality index over time in paragraph six.)

To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft at srussellkraft@gmail.com.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com