Thursday, May 26, 2011

Let Me Tell You a Story

Some have questioned as to why I wrote the post yesterday on this blog and a similar story on The Bilerico Project about Equality Virginia’s promotion of a law firm with what I consider to be a confirmed anti-gay history. One EV board member even chastised me for "tearing others apart" “over personal agenda items” and complained that I refused to remain quiet when I “don’t like the resolution.” The best way to respond to these questions and criticisms is to tell a simple story. It’s a story of what this EV promoted law firm did to me. Here it is:
It was 2004 and for many months my Norfolk based law firm, Payne, Gates, Farthing & Radd, had been in merger discussions with Virginia Beach based Wolcott Rivers. While the transaction was described as a merger, a takeover of my firm by Wolcott Rivers was a more true explanation of what was happening. The consolidation of the firms was to be effective December 1, 2004.
I had finally come out at work during 2003 – partly because some of the staff had inadvertently discovered my secret and partly because I could not take the stress of being in the closet at work. For the most part, the firm did not treat it as any big deal. Before events that would later take place in November, 2004, the only time it was an issue was in the spring of 2004 after I had written a letter to the editor opposing the statute then pending in the Virginia General Assembly that was the precursor to the Marshall-Newman anti-gay amendment to Virginia’s Constitution. It seems the folks at Wolcott Rivers did not like my letter and I received a reprimand. But for that, things seemed to progress uneventfully toward the so-called merger.
Then, on or about November 3, 2004, I was called into a meeting and summarily told that the decision had been made that I was not to be included in the new combined firm. Apparently, the powers that be at Wolcott Rivers thought that having an openly gay attorney in the firm would “offend the sensibilities” of conservative firm clients. In moments I was unemployed in my 50’s. Never mind that I had two children I was still supporting and not insignificant support payments I had to make each month to my former wife. I was devastated and distraught. But only the “sensibilities” of unnamed homophobic clients mattered to the folks at Wolcott Rivers.
I briefly took the only position I could find with a law firm of much lesser quality which in short order blew apart and I again found myself with no firm and no income. Surviving on IRA withdrawals I started my own firm – no Hampton Roads law firms to date to date have hired any openly gay attorneys, so I had no alternative – and I have struggled to build a practice in a very much down economy. Along the way, I had to file personal bankruptcy and engaged in two suicide attempts because of depression largely brought on by my financial meltdown. My level of income has never recovered and possibly never will. All thanks to the powers that be at Wolcott Rivers.

Yes, in some ways this might be called a “personal agenda” item since my career was largely destroyed to protect the sensibilities of bigots both within and outside of Wolcott Rivers. But looking at the larger picture, I find it unconscionable that EV can in any way hold a firm such as Wolcott Rivers out as a resource to the LGBT community.


Biki Honko said...

I am horrified that EV would consider this company to be an asset for the GLBT community. This company ruined your career, ruined your ability to make a good income, in what as a lawyer should be prime years, and due to all of this caused your personal meltdown.

Jaded human that I am, I've noticed that the GLBT organizations seem to sell themselves rather like corner whores. For the correct dollar amount they sell absolution, not unlike the pope. Pay away the sin, wash yourself in your paid for holiness.

Claire Gastanaga said...

Equality Virginia is submitting this comment to clarify a number of issues raised by Mr. Hamar regarding the inclusion of attorney listings on EV’s website resource pages.

First, as Mr. Hamar knows from personal experience and partly based on earlier concerns raised by him, EV’s lawyer listings were removed from the website almost two years ago, and reposted only after attorneys (not firms) provided written answers to a questionnaire which is available for public review.

Second, and, again, as Mr. Hamar knows from personal experience, the list of attorneys on the EV website is provided solely for the convenience of lawyers interested in having members of the GLBT community as clients and as a convenience to those members of the GLBT community seeking lawyers who have indicated an interest in their business. EV is not engaged, as Mr. Hamar’s suggests in “promoting” any lawyer or firm on the resource page, including his.

All attorneys interested in being included on EV’s resource pages, including Mr. Hamar, have completed a questionnaire that asks about their work with GLBT clients and issues, whether they’ve ever used sexual orientation or gender identity against a client or opposing party in a legal matter, and what areas of legal expertise they have on issues affecting GLBT Virginians and their families. Each lawyer’s questionnaire is linked to his or her listing for information and review by any interested person or is available from EV on request.

Inclusion of an attorney on the resource list does not imply endorsement by Equality Virginia or any warranty of their services. Exclusion from this list does not imply criticism of those not listed.

EV encourages any person seeking a lawyer to interview more than one attorney and to exercise careful and independent judgment in seeking the best lawyer to represent them on a particular matter. EV does not have the resources to engage in an in-depth substantive evaluation of individual lawyers or firms, and cannot, therefore, offer any warranty or recommendation regarding any lawyer on its resource listings, including Mr. Hamar.

Michael-in-Norfolk said...

I have reluctantly approved the preceding post left by an EV functionary. Frankly, it's a CYA posting and utterly ignores the fact that once notified of the issues surrounding Mr. Zeigler and Wolcott Rivers, EV did nothing to rectify the situation. It is this inaction as opposed to the original listing that I find so troubling.

As one who has given countless hours to the Legends Gala over five years (and helped raise over $100,000 for EV) and who with my partner has given EV significant amounts of money, it disturbs me greatly that my concerns apparently mean nothing to the EV staff and current board of directors.

Believe me, I get the message loud and clear. It will be most difficult for me to support EV in any manner for some time to come.