Earlier this year, a group of law professionals met on the 28th floor of the Pinnacle building, in a boardroom that overlooked LP field and the rest of Nashville. This view from the top exemplifies how far this group of proud and prestigious gay and lesbian lawyers has come in Nashville.
“It is really important to know that gay and lesbian lawyers exist in firms. By putting myself out there more people can come forward,” said James Williamson of Booker & White. “The Stonewall Bar Association of Tennessee will serve as that core network group of social and professional support for those people.”
The Stonewall Bar Association of Tennessee (SBA) was formed as an organization to support GLBT legal professionals, while encouraging and promoting diversity in the legal profession. The name “Stonewall” hails from the notorious New York City Stonewall riots during the late 1960s, and since then ‘Stonewall’ has been synonymous with the GLBT community’s struggle for equality.
“My younger brother is gay and I’ve been defending him since we were growing up,” said Jennifer Weaver, of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis. “That is why I joined SBA — to continue on that fight for equality and diversity. I am fortunate to have a proactive law firm that believes in SBA.”
Other states have similar GLBT legal associations; the closest organization, in name and proximity, to the SBA is the Stonewall Bar Association of Georgia. The group’s existence is important in that some say Nashville may have lost some great GLBT legal professionals in the past due to the lack of an organization with the SBA caliber.
|To see video of Sam Felker discussing the SBA, click here.|
“It is finally nice to have an organization here in Nashville like the SBA. It shows that we as a city have come a long way,” said Jeana Clark of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis. “Law students that go to school here in Tennessee no longer have to move to a major city to be accepted and welcomed in law firms. Students that graduate from around the country can come to Nashville.”
“It’s important for GLBT attorneys and legal professionals to know that they are a part of a community,” added David Smith of Bass Berry & Sims. “It can be extremely difficult without that support.”
The group also is working to recruit in other members of the legal community, both gay and straight.
“Membership is open to all GLBT attorneys, judges, paralegals, other legal professionals and all other members of the legal community who support them,” said Sam Felker from Bass Berry & Sims. “We value the support and input from our ‘straight allies’ and they will be a key to the success of this venture.”
“Half the battle of being a new organization is to show that we exist,” Weaver said. “This is a huge statement for Nashville, especially since three major law firms stands behind SBA mission.”
Those firms include Bass Berry & Sims, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis and Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz. These are just some of the law firms around town that focus on diversity initiatives including GLBT issues, members say.
Although the SBA is still in the developmental stages, community support is in full effect. The group was recognized at this year’s Human Rights Campaign Equality Dinner and also at a recent law luncheon. There are currently about 75 people on the mailing list who have expressed interest in the SBA.
“I am encouraged by the overwhelming support and interest from the legal community, especially our ‘straight allies’ in the bar,” said Felker. “I am also looking forward to partnering with the OutLaw student group at Vanderbilt Law School. I believe our groups can work together quite effectively to promote diversity and provide visibility for GLBT legal professionals in Nashville.”
With the start of any new organization, setting future goals are important to move it forward. These key aspirations give an organization and its members a foundation that keeps them engaged in the long run, and the SBA has crafted its own set of marching orders and priorities.
“In five years, I hope that we will have established SBA within the fabric of Nashville and state of Tennessee legal community. In doing so, Nashville will be more attractive to attorneys, firms, and diversity,” said Smith.
“I would like to get to the point when you hear the National Bar Association and the Tennessee Bar Association, you won’t think twice about the Stonewall Bar Association,” Clark added.
“In the future I hope that the SBA receives statewide recognition that advances GLBT issues and one day can provide pro bono services within the GLBT community,” said Kendrick Vaughn of Bass Berry & Sims.