N.C. LGBTs and the law: Not perfect, but getting better

News Notes: Carolinas

STATEWIDE — North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Alliance (NC GALA) was recently the focus in an article in NC Lawyers Weekly. The feature described how Dan Ellison graduated from the University of North Carolina Law School in 1984, but with anxieties unlike most of his classmates who were preparing themselves for the bar exam. His sexual preference could have been a deciding factor when it came to passing the “[character and fitness] review from the Board of Law Examiners.”

But, now, in a more accepting climate, N.C. lawyers may not have as many concerns. NC GALA gives attorneys an outlet for networking, referral and gaining support in an otherwise conservative state.

The group, which formed in 1994, has as part of its mission a dedication to establish and maintain a network of LGBT attorneys, and those who support the goals of the organization, while promoting “the professional advancement of members of the LGBT community and stimulate the practice and professional expertise of LGBT lawyers.” It also uses its platform to promote sensitivity with regard to legal issues that affect the LGBT community. Even more so, they advocate for the elimination of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation through legislative and administrative reforms.

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Lawyers Weekly also said that former state legislator Sharon Thompson, Ellison and “other gay attorneys in North Carolina…say that attorneys’ attitudes about the [LGBT] communities are — for the most part — more positive than in years past.”

The article continued to say: “‘Evidence of improvement can be seen in the increasing calls for diversity of all sorts in law firms,’ said Ellen W. ‘Lennie’ Gerber, a 74-year-old High Point attorney and one of the founders of the N.C. Gay Advocacy Legal Alliance, formerly the N.C. Gay and Lesbian Attorneys Association.”

Greensboro attorney and Alliance board member Samuel Johnson felt that most groups who faced discrimination experience the same problem.

Thompson, who served as NC GALA’s first president, spends a lion’s share of her time fixing other lawyers’ mistakes. She uses her expertise in looking at an LGBT client’s case to make sure that real estate and other issues are properly dealt with.

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Mostly, the issue of discrimination has been on the front burner in the state’s legal circles. There is even a move to add a clause to the Rules of Professional Conduct touting non-discrimination.

And, the issue of how to speak to or deal with non-traditional or special cases is one that members and attendees speak about at NC GALA continuing education seminars and classes. Coming across in a sensitive manner is a key skillset that attorneys need nowadays with such a diverse population. This was not always the case in the past as sexual orientation was sometimes not mentioned because of the fear of many clients that to do so would not bode well, even it meant having a less-than-favorable outcome with their cases.

Times have certainly changed over the years. After her retirement, Gerber accepted a case on appeal in front of the state Supreme Court. Her proudest and most shining moment was announcing to the court that she was a member of NC GALA and that she was representing her client.

For more information on NC GALA, visit ncgala.org. : :

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Posted by Lainey Millen

Lainey Millen is QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director. She can be reached at specialassignments@goqnotes.com and 704-531-9988, x205.