Friday, October 07, 2011

Judiciary Still Plagued by Homophobia

As I have noted in previous posts, the judiciary - and the legal profession as a whole for that matter - continues to be plagued by rampant homophobia in many areas of the country and certainly here in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. In Virginia, the Canons of Judicial Conduct that bar judges from allowing bias based on sexual orientation and gay bashing by opposing litigants are routinely ignored just as biased judges continually ignore the requirement to abstain from hearing cases with LGBT litigants. Worse yet, from my experience, the Virginia Judicial Review Commission does absolutely nothing to stop the widespread discrimination. As an article in The Guardian makes clear, the problem is not isolated to the USA or Virginia. LGBT citizens continue to face discrimination in the courts and certainly in the area of judicial appointments. Yes, there have been appointments of LGBT judges to federal courts and in some states, but in truth such appointments are few and far between when factored against the total number of sitting members of the judiciary. Here are highlights from The Guardian that look at the shared problem in the UK:

Until 1991, unmarried men and women – including gay and lesbian lawyers – were excluded from entering the judiciary. Unsurprisingly, homophobia, or at least a strong perception of it, still lingers. According to recent research by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender legal group Interlaw, 70% of LGBT lawyers believe there is prejudice within the selection process for judicial office.

The judicial appointments committee (JAC) – the body founded in 2006 to enhance judicial accountability – is keen to remedy this. Last month, it began monitoring the sexuality of wannabe judges (it already monitors gender, ethnicity, age, professional background and disability). The JAC is also increasing its engagement with the gay lawyer community through talks at LGBT legal events and the publishing of case studies of gay judges.

[L]aw firms remain some way from being gay utopias. A potent undercurrent of unspoken homophobia exists at some of them – a problem illustrated by a handful of online comments made in response to an article last year advising young gay lawyers on how to come out at work.

It's little wonder, then, that law graduate Adam Fellows, who is openly gay, was advised by a junior barrister not to publicly mention the fact he had a boyfriend during his hunt for a traineeship. Another concern is how international corporate law firms increasingly apply anti-discrimination policies in their offices in countries where homophobia is the norm.

Homophobia is rife in the Hampton Roads legal profession and yours truly remains one of the few openly gay attorneys in private practice. The sad truth is that to be openly gay makes one basically unemployable by any of the local law firms - even the few that have non-discrimination policies that purport to protect LGBT attorneys and staff.

No comments: