5 Inspiring Legal Professionals Making Positive Change for Lawyers in the LGBTQ Community

Lawyer Holding Pride Flag

Although the calendar celebration for Pride Month may only last four weeks, there is no expiration date for celebrating and honoring all of the brave trailblazers who have fought tirelessly to achieve equal justice and equal opportunity for all Americans. 

Lawyers, in particular, have played a critical role in solidifying and protecting rights, like in the landmark Bostock v. Clayton County case, where the Supreme Court affirmed sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be discriminated against in the workplace.

This year’s Pride Month commemoration is particularly monumental, as it marks the 55th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of pro-LGBTQ protests in response to the NYPD raiding a gay club in New York City, sparking a worldwide movement. 

There are several inspiring leaders in the legal industry who are using their platforms to advocate for equality and justice year-round. Get to know some of today’s leading voices.

Also, let us know who our podcasters should interview next by messaging us on LinkedIn, Facebook, X or Instagram.

1. Gavin Alexander

Gavin Alexander is a founding member of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s standing committee on lawyer well-being and serves as the director of wellness at Jackson Lewis P.C., overseeing well-being initiatives for more than 1,000 attorneys.

His advocacy for diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) has been at the forefront of his committee involvement and contributed to his well-deserved placement on the LGBT Attorneys Under 40 list by the National LGBTQ+ Bar Association. 

Alexander discussed how mental health and wellbeing have been stigmatized in the legal profession and the shocking new research regarding lawyers’ health on ABA’s Section of Litigation’s podcast Litigation Radio

“I experienced very serious depression, and I kept not seeking care because I thought having any paper trail of receiving care would be damaging to me. And I didn’t seek care until it was too late and I attempted to end my own life while I was in practice,” Alexander recalled. “Since then, one of my soap boxes that I try to advocate on all the time is that we need to see more lawyers in senior positions in leadership positions, in these amazing roles like partners and law school deans and professors and judges talking about the struggles they’ve faced and how they’ve gotten through it.”

2. Jackie Gardina

The Colleges of Law Dean and Sidebar Co-Host Jackie Gardina has an impressive resume stacked with meaningful work, including involvement in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, which was designed to help LGBTQ individuals serve openly in the United States Armed Forces, as well as the effort to secure marriage equality in Vermont.

“I think Elie [Mystal] described perfectly what I love about teaching the law, which is to really spark curiosity, to intrigue people, to want them to learn more and hopefully to recognize what needs to happen to move us towards that more perfect union that is promised in the preamble of the Constitution,” Gardina said on a recent episode of her podcast. 

Jackie opens up about her story and why she cares so much about constitutional rights in the 2022 pilot episode of Sidebar.

3. Ray Koenig III

Ray Koenig III currently serves as the first openly gay president of the Chicago Bar Association and strives to both recruit and retain diverse candidates into legal positions. 

“I was the first openly gay secretary ever, the second VP, first VP, and president. And there were, I’m quite certain, other individuals who identified as LGBTQ, but did not have the good fortune to live in the kind of world I live in where I can just be myself,” Koenig said last month on @theBar

Koenig has selected inclusion as this year’s theme and encourages those who are concerned about their own job security to recognize that adding more seats at the table doesn’t mean taking chairs away.

“When you throw diversity, equity inclusion out there, there’s a lot of folks that are currently in law firms and bar leadership that scares them because it’s a big topic and they feel threatened like, ‘Oh, you mean you’re going to get rid of me and replace me with somebody else?’ No, no, no, that’s not it. The pie is big enough for all of us.” 

Hear more about Koenig’s exciting goals for this year and how he prepared to throw out the first pitch at the Cubs game on May 21 in honor of the Chicago Bar Association’s 150th anniversary.

Ray J. Koenig III at the Chicago Cubs Game
Ray J. Koenig III and Clark, the legendary Chicago Cubs mascot, celebrated the Chicago Bar Association’s 150th anniversary at Wrigley Field! (Photo courtesy of CBA)

4. Michael Nava

You may recognize Michael Nava’s name from the covers of his acclaimed series of crime novels featuring a gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer called Henry Rios. Nava was awarded the Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award in LGBT literature in 2001 for his outstanding works. 

“I pursued both writing and law. They complimented each other because they often involve the same themes of marginalization, and just how people of color and LGBTQ people navigate a world in which they are not only a minority, but frequently the object of discrimination,” Nava shared with DeMario Thornton. 

Nava spent many years working as an attorney in California and retired from the law in July 2016.

In the interview below, Nava shares how he overcame discrimination and supported diversity in the legal world.

5. Alicia Aquino

Alicia Aquino, the CEO of Aquino Trial Services, is passionate about advocating for women, foster youth, and individuals who represent as LGBTQ+. As the co-chair of the ABA Women of Legal Tech Summit and Board Member of the Tom Homann LGBTQ Law Association Foundation, she’s able to build community and make the legal tech space more welcoming, particularly in California, where she resides. 

She sat down with the On The Road team to share her favorite tips for staying organized and managing trial documents, available here.

Being part of the solution & ensuring that your law firm is inclusive. 

In the words of Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, “There’s going to come a day where we will live in a world that’s perfect, and it’s beautiful and it’s wonderful, and all of us can feel free, safe, celebrated and seen. It doesn’t exist yet. And so until it exists, we still need time to talk about the challenges that LGBT folks face.” 

Strayhorn, named one of the country’s “Top Diversity Scholars” by Diverse Issues in Higher Education, offers strategies for cultivating a sense of belonging in a recent interview on Lawyerist Podcast. 

Don’t know where to start? Consider the following:

  1. Post a letter on your firm or company’s website, celebrating diversity and acknowledging your awareness of pride.
  2. Create a custom virtual background for video calls that shows your company’s support and encourage your employees to use it. Linked here are some free templates you can use!
  3. Have an event in the workplace or invite a guest speaker who not only celebrates, but educates. 
  4. Take your team to a pride celebration or offer paid time off for employees to select a gathering or meet-up that would be most meaningful to them.

Hear the full episode:

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