Metro Weekly

Raising the Bar

Gay African-American is new head of the D.C. Bar Association

Even as a child, Melvin White showed interest in the law as an avid fan of TV courtroom dramas such as Perry Mason.

”I was born in ’59, so the ’60s and ’70s shaped my background a great deal,” says White, an African-American native of Crawfordsville, Ark.

”And of course there was a lot going on legally during that time period, with respect to civil rights, so that also piqued my interest in the law.”

On Thursday, June 21, White, an attorney who specializes in complex commercial litigation as a partner with the D.C. firm McDermott Will & Emery, was sworn in as the president of the D.C. Bar Association, during an annual meeting and awards dinner at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.

White is the first openly gay head of the group.

”I bring a different perspective, based on my background,” he says. ”I’ve been an attorney for 20 years, and I’ve been [African-American and gay] all my life, so I think when the two are put together, it is my hope that I would bring a fresh perspective on the issues that the Bar is dealing with.”

All attorneys who practice in Washington are required to hold membership with the D.C. Bar, an organization that was formed by the D.C. Court of Appeals in 1972. As president, White will oversee the administration of the Bar, which currently includes more than 85,000 members nationwide.

After five years in the United States Air Force and his subsequent undergraduate studies at the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta, White earned his law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville in 1987. He has lived in Washington for the past 18 years, and had previously served on the Bar’s Board of Governors from 2000 to 2006.

”I hope the [GLBT] community will look at this as a validation that we can do whatever we set out to do,” he says. ”The law is traditionally thought of as a very conservative profession, and it is in many ways, but I think if you go into it with an open mind, and if you insist that you will define yourself as opposed to being defined by others, than there’s no limit on what you can do.”

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