Last week, we attended OutLaws: A Discussion With Out Lawyers, held at the LGBT Community Center here in New York. The event featured “out lawyers sharing different perspectives and stories — how they got to where they are professionally, as well as what went right, what didn’t, how they’d approach things differently today, and the specific challenges they faced as an LGBT person.”
The panel was moderated by Lisa Linsky, a litigation partner at McDermott Will & Emery. She was joined by Michael Colosi, general counsel for Kenneth Cole; Phylliss Delgreco, associate general counsel and senior vice president at Citigroup; and Roberta Kaplan, a litigation partner at Paul Weiss.
The freewheeling discussion was quite enlightening. You can read about it after the jump.
Lisa Linsky — looking fabulous, in a teal pantsuit, open-necked white blouse, and Tina Fey (or Sarah Palin?) glasses — kicked off the discussion by inquiring into professional coming-out stories. She began by offering her own. At the start of her career — in a conservative professional environment, a prosecutor’s office in Westchester County — she felt fearful. She was not out in the workplace (and was even dating men).
One day she was having lunch with a colleague. In the middle of a conversation about some other topic, the colleague asked her, point blank: Are you gay? Linsky said yes, then asked: “How did you know?” The colleague told Linsky that everyone in the office knew — and nobody cared. But it still took Linsky a few years after that conversation to realize that no one cared.
Michael Colosi said that he’s had multiple coming-out stories, having worked at a number of places over the years. He said it was easy to be gay and out at Akin Gump in D.C., but less so at Fried Frank in New York. Back when he was at Fried Frank, very few lawyers were openly gay, and a number of religious, primarily Jewish senior partners were “not very open to the idea.” But since he wasn’t gunning for partnership, he did not worry too much — and he also received support from the firm’s head of recruiting, who was supportive of bringing more gay lawyers into the firm.
Colosi later worked at Warnaco, the apparel company, where he worked under the (in)famous Linda Wachner, whom he described as “an equal opportunity offender.” She sometimes gave him a hard time, but on the whole, “a fashion company is an easier place to be gay. It’s not like a tire plant — no offense to tire plants.”
He described his current employer, Kenneth Cole, as a “great company” for out attorneys. But he said that being out in the law still has its challenges. He pointed out that as recently as the early 1970s, homosexuality was reason enough not to be admitted to the bar.
Phylliss Delgreco had a more straightforward story. She said that during the course of her legal career, which started in the early 1990s, people have treated her sexual orientation in a matter-of-fact manner. This was also how she grew up, as one of seven children, three of whom are gay. (She did relate one humorous, sitcom-esque anecdote involving the time she was dating a woman named “Sam,” whom one colleague assumed for the longest time was a man.)
Roberta Kaplan — sleek in a silver pinstriped suit and white blouse, and toting a gorgeous orange satchel with an elegant cross-hatching pattern — had a story similar to Delgreco’s. She explained that she’s spent most of her career at Paul Weiss, a place where sexual orientation is no big deal. She offered this amusing description of the firm’s approach to hiring: “Are you a lawyer? Are you funny? Other than that, they really don’t care.”
Kaplan noted that one of her great mentors was Marty London, “probably about as macho as you get as a litigator,” who invited her and her girlfriend out to his country house — even before she made partner. Other than a few awkward moments — e.g., the time she referred to her “partner,” and a colleague assumed she was referring to a Paul Weiss partner — being an out attorney has come with few complications.
This was just the start of the discussion. We’ll bring you the rest in a subsequent post.
Update: Part 2 appears here.
OutLaws: A Discussion With Out Lawyers [LGBT Community Center]