Last night, I had the great pleasure of attending the LeGaL Foundation Annual Dinner, which took place at Capitale here in New York. The mood was festive — which wasn’t surprising, given the successes of both LeGaL and the broader LGBT rights movement over the past year.
Here’s my account of the evening, a celebration of the Foundation’s 30th anniversary and an opportunity to honor some pioneers of the gay rights movement….
Cocktails began at 6 and dinner started at 7:30. Alas, working on Gay Standard Time, I missed out on the free booze and arrived shortly before dinner started. As I made my way across the packed ballroom, I bumped into trial lawyer Gregory Antollino — who was in excellent spirits, having just won a big award on behalf of an HIV-positive man in an employment discrimination case.
I was seated at the table of Jenner & Block, a strong supporter of the Foundation (which shouldn’t come as a surprise, given Jenner’s status as a pro-bono all-star firm). I got to chat over the course of the evening with Paul Smith, a hero of the gay rights movement for successfully arguing Lawrence v. Texas before the Supreme Court. Smith seemed relaxed and happy, perhaps because of the recent settlement in the epic Viacom/YouTube litigation (which Smith had been scheduled to argue before the Second Circuit on Monday — a court in which he has previously prevailed on behalf of his client, Viacom).
LeGaL’s president, Karl Riehl, began the proceedings by welcoming everyone (and giving a shout-out to Above the Law, one of two throughout the evening; thanks for that, Karl!). He introduced LeGaL’s new executive director, Matthew Skinner, who in turn introduced Professor Arthur Leonard, one of the organization’s founders. Professor Leonard recounted LeGaL’s early days, when it was known as the “Bar Association for Human Rights of Greater New York” — because some of its members were not out at work, in an age of greater discrimination against LGBT individuals.
Various luminaries of the LGBT world — including Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, and the indefatigable Edith Windsor, of United States v. Windsor fame — helped give out LeGaL’s Community Vision Awards. This year, the worthy honorees were as follows:
- Credit Suisse, which has done much to advance LGBT rights on Wall Street;
- Brian Ellner, executive vice president at Edelman, and a major figure in the worlds of media, government, and politics; and
- Mary Bonauto, the longtime Civil Rights Project Director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), who has been described as the Thurgood Marshall of marriage equality (by none other than ATL’s regining Lawyer of the Year, Paul Weiss partner Roberta Kaplan).
In accepting her award, Mary Bonauto talked about how the LGBT community is on “a quintessentially American journey,” moving from exclusion to equality. She marveled at the tremendous progress on the marriage-equality front, both legal and political, in the decade or so since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s landmark ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (which she litigated).
Marriage, of course, is not the only issue that matters to the LGBT community. Fortunately, progress on marriage equality has been accompanied by progress in a whole host of other important areas, including employment nondiscrimination laws, hate crime laws, anti-bullying laws, and gays in the military.
The fight for marriage equality is not over. Bonauto expressed hope that the Supreme Court will hand down a national standard to end the current patchwork of state laws that govern the issue — perhaps as early as June 2015.
The LGBT community has much to celebrate, but much remains to be done. Congratulations and thanks to LeGaL, Credit Suisse, Brian Ellner, and Mary Bonauto — and good luck to them as they continue their hard work in support of justice. If you’d like to support that work, you can do so here.
LeGaL Foundation Annual Dinner [LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York]