OUTLaw Hosts Statewide Conference on ‘The March Toward Equality’

The law school’s student organization OUTLaw recently hosted the 2013 Midwest LGBT Law Conference with the theme of “The March Toward Equality: Dismantling Discrimination.” The goal was to present a diverse array of speakers and facilitate discussion about the human face of the law and the end products of discrimination. Professionals from inside and outside the legal community and from throughout Missouri, including a number of alumni, shared their knowledge and experiences.

 

After opening remarks by second-year law student and conference chair, Matt Bell, the first speaker for the weekend-long conference was Grant Doty, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Eastern Missouri who spoke on “Strategic Litigation.” Unlike some of his colleagues, Doty revealed that his career as a lawyer came later in his life, having first served as a strategic war planner for the U.S. military. From his experiences, Doty remarked that he knew full well that when fighting an uphill battle, a series of smaller victories can help accomplish a larger strategic goal.

Doty also detailed how this lesson is as true in the courts, where winning smaller cases can create precedents that can in time lead to much larger victories. For example, he described the case of Glossip v. Missouri Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol Employees’ Retirement System. In that case, Kelly Glossip, the partner of a state trooper who had died in the line of duty, was denied his partner’s pension benefits. Glossip sued after being told he could not receive benefits because he could not produce a marriage certificate.

In addition to an overview of the case, Doty discussed the strengths of Glossip’s claim and how it was chosen from among roughly 3,000 other cases brought to the ACLU each year. In their case selection, the ACLU often seeks to an ideal candidate to fit each new objective, he said. In this case, Glossip’s was “the face” behind what would be used to gain another foothold in the march toward equality.

Other conference topics ranged from the Value of Queer Youth Leadership programs to the case of Coy Mathis and the limits of statutory protections and a corporate culture panel where “out” attorneys joined labor and employment attorneys for a discussion on the trend toward inclusiveness in American corporate culture.

The final topic was “Intro to LGBT Aging Services, Cultural Competency,” presented by Sherrill Wayland, executive director of Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE) of Metro St. Louis.

The hour-long snapshot gave insights into a much larger program aimed at increasing awareness and empathy for the LGBT community among health care and social service providers. The program is also seeks to address the higher rate of health disparities in the LGBT community due to a fear of how members may be treated.

In order to create a safer environment for the aging LGBT community, SAGE also has been working with health care providers to alter the language and questions they use. Through using appropriate terminology, fine-tuning their approaches, and actively reaching out to the LGBT community, Wayland hopes health care workers will join in SAGE’s goals of improving conditions for aging members of the LGBT community. The session also included a few group activities, such as examining old case studies and major moments in global LGBT history to try and better understand how they have impacted the older LGBT generation.

By the end of the conference, networking was obvious, as those who may have walked into the event as strangers were shaking hands and trading stories and experiences. As the conference drew to a close, the room was filled with an aura of goodwill and the potential for a brighter future.

By Brent Mueller