The Colorado LGBT Bar Association is among the smaller affinity bar associations, but as president Rachel Catt describes it, it’s rapidly growing and performing beyond what its size might lead one to believe. The organization has a long list of activities and initiatives and has been active in lobbying at the legislature and the state Supreme Court.
A Busy Year
Catt said the organization has seen growth in 2019. Despite being one of the smaller bar associations, as of October, the organization had 223 active members with about 500 on the listserv. She said the organization has had steady growth since the beginning of the year.
In terms of other numbers, the LGBT Bar Association Foundation awarded two fall scholarships of $10,000 each to a student from DU Sturm College of Law and a student from the University of Colorado Law School. The annual gala, held in September, also raised roughly $35,000, Catt said, which will fund future scholarships.
At the gala, the LGBT Bar Association recognized Christine Brown with its Ally of the Year Award for her pro bono work helping transgender clients seeking asylum. The organization also awarded DU Sturm College of Law associate dean Catherine Smith with its Attorney of the Year Award for her work on the school’s Diversity and Inclusiveness initiative.
The organization’s growth and fundraising success might have something to do with the busy calendar. With a full slate of lobbying activity and amicus briefs, judicial nominating commission endorsements and an event just about every month, the members stay busy.
Catt gave the rundown of events: socials, CLEs about newsmaking topics such as the military transgender ban and same-sex common law marriage, a reception at the governor’s mansion, participating in the Pride Parade for the first time (with the banner “No, we’re not that kind of bar”).
Catt said the goal of the LGBT Bar Association is to promote LGBT members of the bar as well as to put its members’ skills to work on behalf of other issues in the community. For instance, members lobbied at the state Capitol in favor of several bills in the 2019 session. The bar’s public policy committee testified in support of the conversion therapy ban, which passed, and in support of Jude’s Law, which allows transgender individuals to change the gender on their ID, which passed as well. The organization also supported the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act and offered information about how the death penalty disproportionately affects the LGBT community.
And in the Supreme Court, the bar filed an amicus brief urging the state’s high court to grant certiorari in In the Marriage of Hogsett, a case that questions whether same-sex couples can be common law married, whether the state’s same-sex marriage laws can be applied retroactively, and how to determine whether such a marriage existed — a “vexing problem,” Catt said. Now that the court has taken up the case, the bar is working on a new amicus brief.
The bar association also offers comments on judicial nominees in every district — Catt said there were 18 state judicial appointments so far in 2019, each with three short list nominees, and the bar’s judicial endorsements committee interviewed and offered comments on each of them. The effort is one that all of the affinity bar associations participate in, spearheaded this year by Asia-Pacific Bar Association President Sumi Lee. All of the bars met with chief legal counsel to Gov. Jared Polis, Jackie Cooper Melmed, to talk about the lack of diversity on the bench statewide.
Catt said the committee asks each nominee the same set of questions and evaluates them on how the committee believes the nominees would handle LGBT litigants who came before them in the courtroom and the extent they are familiar with legal and social issues facing the LGBT community as well as their qualities as an attorney.
Catt said the lack of diversity on the bench is one area where LGBT representation is most troubling. She said she feels the local legal community supports the LGBT community in that there are no complaints coming through the bar association regarding job discrimination, but there are occasionally complaints about judicial officers being discriminatory.
“Overall, I think people are well meaning. There’s more access to information on LGBT issues. … But sometimes people are not as informed as they could be,” Catt said, adding that she thinks representation on the bench is lagging behind.
“There are hardly any LGBT bench officers in the state. There are 200 trial court judges, and if 10% of the population is LGBT, there is definitely not 10% across the bench.”
Catt said the LGBT Bar Association has plans to continue sponsoring pipeline to the bench programs each year to encourage its members to participate and consider the nomination process.
And as the new legislative session appears on the horizon, the LGBT Bar Association is gearing up for new policy fights to get involved in. One topic the organization is already looking into, Catt said, is the gay and trans “panic defense.” She said the organization will be looking into any legislation to remove that as a legitimate legal defense in the state. •
— Tony Flesor, [email protected]