As part of the firm’s observation of Pride Month, LGBTQ @ Venable hosted a virtual conversation with attorney Laurie Hasencamp, a gay rights advocate and ally. Nora Garrote, chair of Venable’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, introduced the program by encouraging attendees to “seek social justice, to stand for equality, and to amplify and to join the voices that demand equity and inclusion in our full socioeconomic and personal lives.” LGBTQ @ Venable co-chairs Colin Vandell and Tiffany Williams spoke with Laurie about her journey from befriending the only openly gay student in her high school to serving as a pro bono attorney with organizations working to ensure equal rights for the LGBTQ community and those impacted by HIV. Along the way, she learned about the critical components of working for and with these communities to secure both equal legal rights and societal acceptance.
Laurie articulated the theme of the conversation by saying, “I believe that people who are in a position of privilege or in a position of strength really owe it to other people to be there for them.” She expanded on that concept by saying that self-identifying as an ally of the LGBTQ community is only part of creating a more just world; visibly showing support and taking action are critical elements of change-making.
Laurie traced her story as an ally through pivotal moments in her life, but also against the backdrop of society’s evolution of acceptance. The cultural climate in the United States in the mid-1980s demanded gay people remain closeted, especially in their professional roles, with a constant fear of being outed. Laurie saw the emotional toll of this burden on her gay friends and colleagues. Coupled with the AIDS crisis, these circumstances exposed fear and ignorance toward the gay community in Big Law firms. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that attorneys began to make their sexual orientation public and increasingly relied on their straight friends and allies to join them in advancing the movement.
Throughout the conversation, Laurie cited studies that touched on the sociological impact of simply knowing gay individuals. Those who believe they don’t have gay friends or acquaintances are much more likely to engage in discriminatory behavior. As people realize they do have LGBTQ members in their community and among their friends and family, hearts and minds tend to open. In addition to working toward societal acceptance, the legal organizations operating in this space are engaged in coordinated and targeted campaigns to chip away at discriminatory legislation. Laurie answered the call to action for allies by volunteering as a pro bono attorney for several nonprofit organizations, including Lambda Legal, which works on impact legislation that is both strategic and long-term; the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, which focuses on legal and demographic research; and Equality California, which works to elect LGBTQ politicians and otherwise effect positive change for the LGBTQ community through government. One of the most important ways allies can support the LGBTQ movement, according to Laurie, is to identify the organizations doing critical work for equality both locally and nationally and donate to their efforts.
As Laurie stressed throughout the discussion, allies have an important role to play in advancing equal rights; an ally does not experience the emotional toll of daily microaggressions spurred by either conscious or subconscious bias. However, allies do have the means to look behind stereotypes, appreciate individuals, and take action. Allies have a responsibility to look for the ways in which members of the LGBTQ community are experiencing discrimination, listen to their stories, and show support. The conversation with Laurie offered insight into the tremendous progress made in recent decades to advance equal rights for the LGBTQ community and the myriad ways anyone witnessing inequality can become an ally.