Last year, the Federal Bar Association carved its own place in LGBT history with the formation of a law section specifically for that demographic.
Since then, the LGBT Law Section has held various events to increase membership and visibility. The current chair is Chirag Badlani, of the Chicago firm Hughes Socol Piers Rensick & Dym, Ltd. He recently talked with Windy City Times about the organization and its mission.
Windy City Times: Tell me how the LGBT Law Section came about.
Chirag Badlani: It was about two years ago. The Federal Bar Association, or FBA, serves to strengthen the practice of law for those who practice in the federal courts, which distinguishes it from other bar associations. It's also unique in that it has government attorneys, judges and private practitioners all in one bar association together to address legal issues, topics and challenges.
A number of people started suggesting that there should be an LGBT voice within the organization not only to substantively address LGBT issues but also to have a place where people who identify as LGBT can have a community within the FBA. The first chair was Danny Weiss, out of New Jersey, headed the law section in 2016. Since then, we've been working to increase our visibility and is looking to grow.
WCT: I read the FBA began in 1920. Out of curiosity, why did it take so long for an LGBT section to be established?
CB: That's a good question. One reason may be that we, as lawyers, are not singularly focused on one organization so it be that some people within the FBA who identify as LGBT were members of other bar associations or LGBT groups.
I came to the FBA and was excited to hear about this section and help it grow. [The late formation] had nothing to do with malice or anything like that; it was felt that this could be a benefit for the organization. The FBA is really diverse in terms of geography and practice area; there are chapters all over the country.
WCT: What has this particular organization done so far?
CB: So far, we've focused on growing and making ourselves more visible. Through partnerships with others, we've put on a few events. There have been panels in New Orleans, for example, on some of the religious-freedom issues. We hosted, in April, a diversity forum in which LGBT issues in federal courts were discussed, such as workplace-discrimination issues. In the future, we're looking to have some networking events; in the next month or so, we're planning on having an event in Southern California.
WCT: Just so our readers are clear on this, who is eligible to join?
CB: So, you have to first a member of the Federal Bar Association itself, and that membership is open to members of the legal community, so lawyers, judges, government attorneys and private practitioners who want to strengthen their practice in the federal system. We're welcoming to those who identify as LGBT, those who identify as LGBT allies and people who want to learn more about LGBT issues.
WCT: So does the section issue press releases on issues like President Trump's controversial tweet banning transgender people from the military? Are you all prohibited from doing anything like that because of the federal connection?
CB: We're actually not a government entity. It's interesting. Take immigration, for example; it includes government attorneys who are often on the other side of private attorneys, but they come together as part of the FBA to understand current issues and each other.
In our section, we're a little unique. We not saying, "Hey, we're going to address both sides of the issue and hear the perspective of those who want to discriminate against us." That's not part of our mission. Our mission is to understand how we can educate people about LGBT issues. We're not necessarily an advocacy organization like Lambda Legal and the ACLU, who have done amazing work. But we would educate about how damaging it is to prevent LGBT folks from openly serving in the military.
WCT: So you wouldn't have a forum in which there are people who feel what he is proposing is fine?
CB: So, we're not opposed to hearing the other side, but we don't feel bound to have equal representation of the other side, either. It's more, like, "Heythis is an issue that affects our membership and the LGBT community, and we're going to educate as to why that might be problematic."
WCT: There can be a thin line between education and advocacy.
CB: Yeah, I think that is right. We don't purport to be an organization that represents that clientele, but we're a member-driven section of an organization. We're not looking to change the structure of the FBA as a whole. We're hoping that, by our very presence, that we create an understanding of the issues affecting the LGBT community within the federal legal aspect.
WCT: How did you get involved in law?
CB: I was working with the City of New York in urban planning. I saw a lot of how government policy can affect communities, and I wanted to understand how that dynamic worked and how I could improve the lives of people in the community. Also, after I came out ( right after college ), I wanted to know how I could help the LGBT communityand I wanted to move forward in a meaningful way. In law school, I discovered I had a passion for civil rights. I do LGBT-discrimination work and immigrant-rights work as well.
More information about the LGBT Law Section is at FedBar.org/Sections/LGBT-Law-Section_1.aspx .