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Reflections on Pride

In the wake of the Orlando shootings, a lawyer examines her personal relationship with LGBT pride.

By Laura W. Brill  |  June 27, 2016

Usually, the early morning news for lawyers in June focuses on controversial Supreme Court rulings just announced or in the works. June is also gay pride month, and in the past few years the month has seen path-marking Supreme Court decisions striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and state laws barring marriage for same sex couples, all of which has made recent gay pride celebrations especially joyous.

My family has lived in or near West Hollywood—the epicenter of LA’s gay pride parade—for about 15 years. Parade day for us has typically involved participating with our kids in the Frontrunners 5K early morning run on a traffic-free Santa Monica Boulevard. We then join the parade and march either with Lambda Legal (the nation’s oldest and largest LGBT civil rights organization) or Equality California (the leading LGBT political group in California).

Some of our fondest family pictures are of our kids (now in their early teens) riding their scooters as part of these groups.  Donning sunglasses and helmets that dwarf their heads, I remember them steering the scooters while trying to hold their marriage equality signs firmly in place.

Their earliest political memory was the 2008 election of President Barack Obama and the simultaneous passage of Proposition 8:  “Are you guys still married?  Why can’t gay people get married now, exactly?” This of course is an obvious invitation for me to launch into my usual rant about the excesses of California’s initiative process, the challenges it poses for representative democracy, and how it has too often been used to attack minority rights.

Ask my kids, and they will tell you that that California’s initiative process is the most extreme of any state in the country.  Even statutory initiatives cannot be amended without a new vote of the “People,” unless the initiative language expressly provides to the contrary. What a crazy way to run the sixth largest economy in the world. But I digress.

This year during the month of pride, we awoke to the news of 50 people killed in a gay bar in Orlando. Should we march or not?  Family meeting time. Are we scared?  Should we go anyway?  We can meet at Book Soup if things go horribly wrong. We packed hats, sunscreen, and water bottles. Also trail mix, because you never know. We did not bring any guns.

We marched with Lambda Legal this year. My daughter made a sign: “Love to Orlando.” It had colors and flowers and quite a bit of black. She handed out lollipops to the families lining the street. She likes best the folks who aren’t expecting anything and smile with surprise and say thank you. She also likes the people who call out, “hooray for the lawyers!” That really happens. They are not being sarcastic. It’s kind of a kick.

I took a picture of my daughter with her sign. It got a lot of “likes” on Facebook. She left it behind with our group at the end.  It made its way to a vigil the next day and got more likes on Facebook.

There are a lot of things that make me feel proud. I am proud of my kids of course. I am also proud of the LGBT community and the legal community and the way that lawyers and law firms have been leaders in standing up for the rights of the LGBT community.

It was law firms that were among the first business organizations to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees. My prior law firm, Irell & Manella, offered domestic partner benefits well before my time, and it is also the place where Lambda Legal’s exceptional legal director Jon Davidson got his training and made partner before embarking on decades of magnificently successful civil rights work.

That small move of providing health benefits for the partners of gay employees, when marriage was only a glimmer in the eye of some, not only provided security to employees at those firms, but served as a model for other law firms, for corporations, and for legislatures. It was the start of a commitment by leaders in the legal community that grew over the years and has included many millions of dollars of pro bono legal services on issues of fundamental fairness.

I am also proud of the LGBT community and the organizations we have built to stand up for our own rights. Lambda Legal (of which I am a past board member) was its own first client: A panel of New York judges turned down its application to be a nonprofit organization because, in their view, its mission—aimed at LGBT equality—was “neither benevolent nor charitable.” With pro bono help, the group appealed to New York’s highest court, which finally allowed Lambda Legal to exist as a nonprofit organization. It is now at the center of impact litigation and policy work around the country to protect LGBT rights.

Equality California (on which my wife formerly served on the board) is one of the strongest LGBT political organizations in the country, helping to make California a model of legislative efforts to protect the community. These and many other organizations all over the country work on lean budgets and with staffs of extraordinarily committed leaders to protect and advance basic rights. The legal profession plays a vital role in sustaining these organizations in funding and in leadership.

Orlando tells us in so many different ways how much work there is to do. We can all appreciate, however, that we have the freedom to organize to do it.

Laura W. Brill is a founding partner of Kendall Brill & Kelly LLP, a Los Angeles-based litigation boutique. Her practice focuses on complex civil litigation and appeals relating to media, communications, and the arts.

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