LGBTQ Lawyers Across Generations Reflect on Progress and Continued Challenges

Progress is often just the start. This is certainly true for the generations of LGBTQ lawyers who reflected on their journeys in the legal profession to celebrate Pride Month 2021.

Pride Month commemorates the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising, when New York City’s gay community stood up to continual harassment from authorities. Over 50 years later, the LGBTQ community continues to fight for legal rights such as nondiscrimination and parenting protections.

In the legal profession, there has been some improvement in LGBTQ representation. NALP’s latest diversity report indicates that the overall percentage of LGBTQ lawyers increased approximately one-third of a percentage point in 2020, rising to 3.31%. Over a longer period, the number of LGBTQ lawyers is nearly three times larger than when NALP began collecting the data in 2002.

“Pride is simultaneously a great time to celebrate how far we have come as a community, as well as a time to recognize how much work we still have to do for equal representation and treatment in society,” said Jared M. Reynolds, Founding Member of RM Law Group LLC.

Like other professions, the legal profession is comprised of five generations, the largest number of generations in workforce history. Millennials, like Reynolds, make up the greatest percentage and are on track to represent 50% of the workforce soon.

I talked with LGBTQ lawyers across generations — from Baby Boomers to Generation Z – about how the justice system and the legal profession have changed to be more responsive to the LGBTQ community and their hopes for the legal profession going forward.

Progress Has Come Through Action

The wheels of justice are not always quick to turn. “I’m not sure that the justice system has changed to be more responsive to the LGBTQIA+ community,” said Cook County Circuit Judge Jill Rose Quinn, a Baby Boomer and Illinois’ first openly transgender candidate elected to public office. “What our community has now we took, and it’s our responsibility to help those in our community to follow us.”

“Certainly, there were a few allies along the way who invited us to the table but the success of the growing numbers of LGBTQIA+ lawyers in gaining acceptance has come from our visibility, professionalism, and authenticity,” Quinn said.

The theme of demanding equity in the workplace was also expressed by Cook County Circuit Judge Catherine A. Schneider, who falls on the cusp of the Baby Boomer and Generation X generations.

“When more [LGBTQ] lawyers and legal staff are out in the workplace, legal employers can and must become more responsive to our needs, including adding partner benefits and generally promoting economic security and financial stability by fostering inclusive labor practices and workplace policies,” Schneider said.

Watching the legal profession evolve from a place of reluctant tolerance to one of more meaningful acceptance was an experience many Generation X attorneys reported.

“In the 20 years since I started law school, I would say the profession has gone from a place of tolerance or grudging acceptance to recognizing that LGBTQIA+ attorneys are an important part of building a talented and diverse workforce,” said Amy Crawford, a Generation X Assistant State’s Attorney, Deputy Chief, Civil Actions Bureau at the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney.

Jeremy Bergstrom, a Generation X Deputy Chief Attorney at the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, expressed a similar sentiment.

“In the span of my 20 years as a lawyer, I have seen the courts and legal profession come much more decisively down on the side of welcoming LGBTQIA+ students and legal professionals, and for more authentic reasons than checkboxes and numbers on a big law firm ranking,” Bergstrom explained.

Bergstrom sees this progress as trickling down to subsequent generations. “I’m glad that younger generations are now able to start with higher ideals and seek places to live and work that more authentically welcome them as part of a community and support their development, even in smaller and more rural communities,” he said.

Embracing Gender Identity Remains a Challenge

While progress has been made, LGBTQ attorneys across generations noted that there is further work to be done, especially when it comes to gender identity.

“As in other facets of life, the acceptance or even embrace of sexual orientation has outpaced that of gender identity. I hope and expect we’ll see a lot more progress on the latter in the next 20 years,” Crawford said.

Derek Bolka, a Generation Z Contact Manager at Accenture, said he “looks forward to law firms, law schools, and the legal profession as a whole embracing strong inclusion and diversity programs that reflect the full spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ community by placing emphasis on people who identify as transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual.”

While progress has come slowly, the LGBTQ community remains hopeful for the future of the legal profession and the justice system.

“I hope that going forward the legal profession will continue to be a ‘voice for the voiceless,’ especially as it relates to the LGBTQIA+ community,” said Jared Reynolds. “Giving individuals room to be their true selves allows them to thrive and be their very best, not only as individuals but further as attorneys.”

A world with a healthier and more diverse legal profession is cause for celebration. Happy Pride!

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