Metro Weekly

National LGBT Bar launches campaign to stop pro bono services to anti-LGBTQ groups

Campaign primarily focuses on repudiating actions of organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel

Attendees of dueling pro- and anti-LGBTQ rallies the steps of the Supreme Court. — Photo: John Riley

The National LGBT Bar Association has launched a new campaign asking attorneys across the nation to repudiate anti-LGBTQ legal groups and pledge not to support them through pro bono services.

The Commit to Inclusion campaign, which runs through Sept. 27, focuses on combating the efforts of groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel, which have been behind many of the legal efforts to undermine or repeal advances in LGBTQ equality.

“For more than 25 years, groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel have overseen an army of litigators and waged a systematic, insidious, and well-funded crusade to strip protections from LGBT people,” D’Arcy Kemnitz, the executive director of the LGBT Bar Association, said in a statement. 

“With the recent Supreme Court decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the announced retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, and more and more court victories for those seeking a license to discriminate, fair-minded attorneys committed to diversity must push back. If we don’t take these threats seriously and act accordingly, we could face long term legal setbacks for LGBT people.”

The campaign includes a downloadable fact sheet detailing the history of the two organizations, their budgets, and a list of the cases where they’ve attacked LGBTQ rights. For example, ADF was behind efforts to ban marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges and to allow small business owners to claim their religious beliefs exempt them from having to abide by nondiscrimination laws, as in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

Meanwhile, Liberty Counsel has been behind efforts to stop school districts from adopting pro-LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies, as in the case of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum v. Montgomery County Public Schools. It has also pushed to keep in place regulations barring transgender children from facilities that match their gender identity, as in the case involving Virginia teenager Gavin Grimm‘s lawsuit against the Gloucester County School Board.

The National LGBT Bar Association also released a one-minute video on Tuesday to educate people about the Commit to Inclusion campaign, and asking lawyers or law firms to sign a pledge that reads: “We commit to inclusion by ensuring that our personal pro bono and volunteer capacity and personal financial resources will not be used to support the work of ADF and Liberty Counsel.”

Kemnitz notes that some of the top global law firms often provide pro bono services to legal organizations seeing to undertake major cases. But the LGBT Bar Association is asking those law firms, and the lawyers who work for them, to closely examine the records of those organizations before assisting them.

“We think individual lawyers need to know who ADF, Liberty Counsel, and groups like them are, and the kinds of cases they have brought,” Kemnitz tells Metro Weekly. “We want people to know what’s behind the name.”

Some conservative legal organizations may allege that the Commit to Inclusion campaign is engaging in bullying or censorship of some kind. But Kemnitz rejects such characterizations.

“What we’re asking for is for law firms to use their discretion. It’s up to a law firm’s discretion who they’ll give away their services to,” she says. “And we ask that, should they get requests from groups like ADF and Liberty Counsel, to give it a pass.

“With criminal law, you do have a right to an attorney when charged with a crime. But this is a different type of situation. We’re talking about big global civil law firms who have every discretion in deciding where to put their resources,” Kemnitz adds. “Fingers crossed, we hope we’re going to get a good response from individuals who went to law school who are committed to upholding the U.S. Constitution and everything it stands for. We hope they’ll sign on with our campaign.”

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