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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Burke praises diversity, GLBT lawyers at Sidetrack/Attorneys Celebrate Diversity

Burke praises diversity, GLBT lawyers at Sidetrack
By Gary Barlow
Copyrightt by The Chicago Free Press
August 1, 2007

Some 150 attendees heard Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke discuss the evolving diversity of the legal profession at the third annual Lawyers for Diversity Mid-Summer Barbecue July 26 at Sidetrack in Lakeview.

“The legal profession is…more responsive, more talented and certainly more diverse than it ever was,” Burke said, recounting how the opportunities for advancement for women, gays and others have opened up in the practice of law in the years since she joined the bar.

“We are who we are—straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered,” Burke said.

Speaking to an audience largely made up of GLBT lawyers and judges, Burke praised them for enriching the profession in Chicago.

“You certainly give our profession the virtue it needs from your tolerance and from sharing your gifts with us,” she said. “It is revolutionizing our profession.”

The event served as a benefit for several organizations—Center on Halsted, Equality Illinois, the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

LAGBAC’s Jeremy Gottschalk noted recent advancements in GLBT diversity detailed in a new Equality Illinois survey of Chicago-area law firms. Most of the firms that responded—92 percent—now have a GLBT-specific nondiscrimination policy and 100 percent said they provide healthcare coverage for employees’ same-sex partners. Gender identity protections surged since last year’s survey—44 percent of the firms responding said they have a nondiscrimination policy covering gender identity. Only 25 percent had such a policy a year ago.

Among the responding firms, Jenner & Block reported the most GLBT attorneys, with 13, followed by Kirkland & Ellis, with eight, and Latham & Watkins, with six. Most firms also said they’ve been supportive of the community, with 87 percent sponsoring GLBT community events and 78 percent providing financial support for GLBT organizations.

Attorneys Celebrate Diversity
by Amy Wooten
Copyright by THe Windy City Times

Lawyers for Diversity hosted its third annual Mid-Summer Barbecue July 26 at Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted, where Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke made a special appearance to speak about the growing diversity within the legal profession.
The event benefited the Center on Halsted, Equality Illinois’ ( EI ) Education Project; the Northern Illinois Council of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; and The Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago ( LAGBAC ) Foundation.

Burke—the third woman on the Illinois Supreme Court—spoke on how much has changed, in terms of diversity, within the legal profession over the years.

“The legal profession is better than it ever was,” Burke said. “Fresher, more challenging, more expressive, more tolerant and, certainly, more diverse. It almost seems impossible that it could ever have been any different than it is today.”

Burke said she also suspects the legal community has finally come to understand how crucial diversity is.

“When you are confident, you do not have to apologize to anyone for being a woman, for being gay, for being Irish, Asian, Black, brown, Jewish, Muslim or Christian,” she continued. “Or for being a South Sider! They know us by the quality we keep, as well as our refusal to do any less.”

Also during the reception, the LAGBAC Foundation honored two scholarship recipients currently interning at Lambda Legal this summer: Todd Kolb and Malcolm “Skip” Harsch.

Those present included Judges Joy Virginia Cunningham, Mary Colleen Roberts, Mike McHale, Tom Chiola and Sebastian Patti; Deb Mell, who is running for state representative; and Equality Illinois’ Art Johnston, among others.

Equality Illinois revealed preliminary results for its annual Law Firm Summary during the reception. The results, the organization said, indicate that the Chicago legal community is making progress in terms of LGBT awareness, presence, and its relationship with the community.

Equality Illinois found that 92 percent of the responding firms included “sexual orientation” in their non-discrimination or EEO statement. Additionally, all provided domestic partner benefits. There has also been progress in addressing “gender identity” in the workplace. Responding firms that reported including “gender identity” in their non-discrimination policy have increased from 25 percent to 44 percent in the past year.

As far as diversity within the responding firms, 74 percent reported having active diversity councils or committees with a mission that includes LGBT issues. Forty-four percent report having an LGBT-specific affinity group, a number Equality Illinois finds low.

All the firms reported that they actively recruit openly LGBT people, but the preliminary results show that most firms indicated they have fewer than three openly gay attorneys and that most do not track LGBT non-attorney staff.

In terms of marketing, half of responding firms said they actively market to the LGBT community; 87 percent sponsor LGBT events; and 78 percent said they provide financial support to LGBT groups.


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