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Bar Watch Bulletin August 7, 2008

LGBT Domestic Violence Victims and Minority Obstacles to the Legal Profession
August 07, 2008

The American Bar Association's Annual Meeting will be taking place from August 7-12 in New York City. As always, ABA Watch will be reporting live, providing you with highlights of the day's events.  To read more about resolutions that will be considered by the House of Delegates at this year's meeting or to learn about recent ABA activity, check out our latest edition of ABA Watch.

What follows are some highlights from today's sessions at the annual meeting.
 
Legal Assistance for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Domestic Violence Victims
 
Thursday afternoon featured a panel sponsored by the Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities, the Commission on Domestic Violence, the Criminal Justice Section, and the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity entitled "The Last Thing Hanging in the Closet: Legal Assistance for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Domestic Violence Victims."  The panel considered the following questions: "Do victims of domestic violence in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships have different legal needs than heterosexual victims? What legal services and remedies are available to these victims?"
 
D'Arcy Kemnitz of the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association, described her job as "all day, all gay for pay" and along with Sharon Staple of the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project and Wanda Lucibello of the Kings County District Attorney's Office, Kemnitz sought to reconcile the domestic violence movement with the LGBT movement, claiming that although the domestic violence movement was started by "a lot of lesbians", much of the early domestic violence movement advocated for mandatory arrests for domestic violence perpetrators and was founded on the assumption that women were the victims, and men the perpetrators. According to Kemnitz, much of the early LGBT legal services movement focused on HIV/AIDs discrimination, family law, and estate law and that the community wanted "to put the best face forward" and was hesitant to talk about abuse amongst same-sex couples.
 
Staple further commented on the specific challenges that the LGBT community faces when it seeks domestic violence relief, pointing out that in New York, "The cops don't have the best reputation in marginalized communities." Lucibello mentioned that many LGBT community members have trouble coming forward because they don't want to reveal their sexual identity or they don't want their families or society who may not approve of their lifestyle to have another reason to disapprove.
 
The prosecutor also said that much of the abuse which takes place in homosexual relationships isn't cognizable under the law like "scratching or pulling hair." With mandatory arrest policies, Lucibello claimed that the police must be "trained to challenge stereotypes" in determining who the predominant physical aggressor is. Lucibello lamented the fact that prosecutors often perpetrate negative stereotypes, giving the example of a prosecutor who asked a male transgender defendant to wear a suit rather than a dress.
 
The moderator, Amanda Kloer of the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence commented that "not only do domestic violence victims face barriers, but the LGBT community faces a whole different layer than do heterosexuals in accessing legal services." Kemintz also added that the LGBT movement "moves so fast and is hard to keep up with" thus further complicating the issue: in the 80s the movement was simply known as the gay and lesbian movement but now there is a "transgender, intersex, queer, and straight ally component".  Staple nodded, adding that she "couldn't even get the letters straight - no pun intended."
 
Kemintz, in regards to the LGBT community, said, "We are not the same. Not cookie cutter. There is fluidity - a speed in the movement. We have to talk about it and learn from each other as we go." Staple added that the domestic violence and the LGBT movements needed to be reconciled but were distinctly different from each other due to "different agendas, priorities, resource issues, funding issues. The LGBT community is evolving - laws change and we must be creative."  Staple pointed out a recent New York law which extended restraining order access to same-sex couples and held this up as an example of "policy working - we educated the legislatures that this is a civil rights issue, not a gay issue."
 
 
Minority Obstacles to the Legal Profession
 
"Keep Elevating Your Game:  Lawyers of Color Harnessing Power," sponsored by the Litigation Section, featured a panel discussion dealing with various obstacles facing minority attorneys and the ways in which they can be overcome.  The panel featured several successful minority attorneys, who described the ways they have achieved success in their profession.  Joseph Ortega, of Nixon and Peabody, urged young minority attorney's to "fine tune who they are" and "always take the high road" when it comes to your professional and personal conduct.  Ortega, also urged young attorneys to stay involved in their community.  
 
Preeta D. Bansal, a partner a Skadden, Arps, spoke about the different skills that can be developed through various employment paths in the legal profession.  Bansal, discussed her experiences working as solicitor general for the State of New York under Elliot Spitzer, her time clerking for justice John Paul Stevens of the United States Supreme Court and teaching at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  Bansal, also spoke about the differences between the public and private sector saying "they are different, but one is not necessarily easier than the other."
 
Kevin Gover, Director of the American Indian Mueseum at the Smithsonian Institute, seconded much of what Bansal and Ortega said.  He spoke about his own interactions with minority students while teaching administrative law at the Sandra Day O' Connor School of Law.  Gover spoke about his unwillingness to "cut Indian students a break." and said that he always set the bar high for Native American students because he knew that they were capable of good work.
 
The panel unanimously agreed that successful attorneys need to be "willing to take risks" and to consider a variety of career paths that may lead to challenging but rewarding career opportunities.

 

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