The Association’s History
The National LGBT Bar Association was founded twenty-five years ago by a small group of family law practitioners. At the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, this core group of volunteers saw an overwhelming need to have an organization to serve as the legal voice of the lesbian and gay community. The creation of a national lesbian and gay bar association would allow them to share resources and educational opportunities nationwide, and open the dialogue regarding laws affecting the lesbian and gay population. The idea of creating the bar association was formally introduced at the 1987 Lesbian & Gay March on Washington and enthusiastically supported by the group.
The first Lavender Law® Conference took place the following year in 1988 at the Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Historic transcripts of that conference, including sessions “Where after Hardwick ?,” “Contested Custody Litigation,” and “Military Law for Gays and Lesbians” can be found in the LGBT Bar audio archive.
In 1989, at the American Bar Association’s Mid-Year meeting, bylaws were presented, and a nonprofit board of directors was formalized. At the second board meeting in 1989 in Boston, the LGBT Bar, then known as the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association (NLGLA), had 293 paid members, and initiated a campaign to ask the ABA to include protection based upon on sexual orientation to its revision of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct for Judges.
In 1992, the LGBT Bar became an official affiliate of the American Bar Association and it now works closely with the ABA’s Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities and its Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
American Bar Association Initiatives
2007 Mid-Year Support of LGBT Issues for Goal IX
At the 2007 Mid-Year meeting in Miami, the ABA House of Delegates voted in favor of a committee-supported recommendation to amend the ABA’s Goal IX to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The eleven goals of the ABA reflect the specific ideals that the ABA aspires to serve in all its work. When originally adopted in 1991, Goal IX was “to promote full and equal participation in the legal profession by minorities and women.” In 1999, Goal IX was amended to include “persons with disabilities.” In furtherance of Goal IX, the Association has taken a host of actions that have greatly increased opportunities for minorities, women, and persons with disabilities to achieve their full potential as members of the bar. The recommendation that was adopted amends Goal IX to assure full and equal participation in the profession without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. The recommendation was passed without any opposition.
Inclusion of Sexual Orientation in Non-Discrimination Legislation
Beginning in 1983, the Committee on the Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men within IRR introduced a resolution urging the enactment of legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The measure narrowly failed, was reintroduced in 1985, and failed again. Finally, in February 1989, with the help of some of the founders of the National LGBT Bar Association, the ABA House of Delegates overwhelmingly adopted the following policy:
BE IT RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges the Federal government, the states and the local governments to enact legislation, subject to such exceptions as may be appropriate, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Historical Support for LGBT Diversity in the Profession
The ABA has also adopted a series of other policies related to sexual orientation, gender expression and the law, including:
- a policy urging the repeal of all laws that criminalize private non-commercial sexual conduct between consenting adults (1973);
- a policy condemning hate crimes, including those based on sexual orientation, and urging vigorous prosecution of the perpetrators of such crimes (1987);
- establishment of an AIDS Coordinating Committee to bring together representatives from various sections of the ABA to work on legal issues arising out of the AIDS epidemic (1988);
- a policy on the criminal justice system and AIDS and a comprehensive 63-part policy on AIDS and the law (1989);
- Canon 3B(5) of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires that: “A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, including but not limited to bias or prejudice based upon . . . sexual orientation . . .” (1990);
- a resolution urging affirmative steps to increase the diversity of the ABA House of Delegates with respect to various attributes including sexual orientation (1990);
- a resolution supporting the enactment of federal legislation requiring a study of bias in the federal judicial system, including bias based on sexual orientation (1991);
- a resolution opposing efforts by government to withhold funds from, or otherwise penalize, educational institutions for denying access to campus placement facilities to government employers who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation (1992);
- a resolution supporting the enactment of legislation providing that child custody and visitation shall not be denied or restricted on the basis of sexual orientation (1995);
- a resolution supporting the enactment of legislation providing that sexual orientation shall not be a bar to adoption when the adoption is determined to be in the best interest of the child (1999);
- a resolution to maximize diversity of incoming law students (the “Pipeline Diversity” resolution (2006);
- a resolution urging federal, state and local governments to enact legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression in employment, housing and public accommodations (2006);
- a resolution urging all state, territorial, and tribal governments to “eliminate all of their legal barriers to civil marriage between two persons of the same sex who are otherwise eligible to marry.” (ABA Resolution 111, 2010); Video: Robert J. Grey, Former ABA President, speaking in support of the resolution.
Because of these policies; the ABA was able to file an amicus brief in Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, 530 U.S. 640 (2000), before the U.S. Supreme Court (the ABA only files amici briefs in a court of final determination) and more recently in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).
Further, there have been educational programs at the ABA meetings presented by the National LGBT Bar Association on transgender law, legal protections against bullying LGBT youth, and many others.