SUNY Buffalo Law School taking strides to support LGBT community
When Daniel DeVoe arrived at UB in the fall of 2011 to attend law school, he was disappointed to find a "complete lack of LGBT visibility and class offerings." UB's law school environment had no opportunities for an LGBT student or anyone interested in LGBT law, according to DeVoe. Instead of wishing he had chosen a school with a thriving LGBT community, he did something about it.
DeVoe, now a second-year law student, re-founded OUTLaw, a LGBT student group that previously existed in the law school but had been inactive for about six years.
"Law school tends to lack the freedom that often dominates one's undergraduate experience [and] many law students may feel the need to go back into the closet or lack visibility in order to assimilate with conservative legal culture," DeVoe said. "LGBT students need a place where they can feel accepted and welcomed."
OUTLaw - composed of UB law school students - sponsors activities, seminars, service projects and social gatherings for members and supporters of the LGBT community. Its goal is to educate and spread awareness about the legal issues pertaining to the LGBT community.
DeVoe drew from his experience with LGBT rights issues at Binghamton University, where he got his undergraduate degree in Spanish, history and theater. There, he co-founded The Right Side of History Campaign, a group focused on LGBT rights. He held rallies against Don't Ask Don't Tell, the U.S. military's former official policy on gay servicemen, and educated the student body.
DeVoe dedicated himself to establishing OUTLaw as a strong organization. He gathered signatures from the student body to get the club re-charted by the Student Bar Association (SBA). He recruited some friends to serve on the executive board, authored bylaws, campaigned for funds from SBA and secured a grant from a local nonprofit organization.
"A student group [like OUTLaw] helps the school at large to become more welcoming," DeVoe said. "This is a time when LGBT rights issues dominate the nightly news. It's a timely moment for OUTLaw's rebirth."
OUTLaw has accomplished several goals in the last year that it has been reinstated. The group has lobbied for and won inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation questions on law school applications and successfully advocated for the addition of several gender-neutral bathrooms in O'Brian Hall.
The group hosted a fall symposium with attorney guest speakers Shari Jo Reich and Bernadette Hoppe. The presentation, entitled "Working With LGBT Clients," discussed etiquette issues and navigating marriage and family in light of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The return of the annual OUTLaw dinner was also organized, according to Lisa Patterson, associate dean for career services in UB's law school and co-adviser of OUTLaw.
DeVoe has held the inclusion of optional questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in law school applications as an objective since "day one." He said he would sense an "environment of inclusiveness" if a school asked him these questions. He believes positive answers will enable the school to connect new students with OUTLaw and will help continue UB's expansion of diversity.
The OUTLaw dinner, a highly anticipated event, was held this year at Chef's Restaurant in Buffalo. It brought together local attorneys, law school professors and deans and students and members of the LGBT community.
This year, OUTLaw will honor Jorien Brock, an alum who is the senior director at the Pride Center of Western New York, and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, an advocate for the Gender Employment Non-Discrimination Actlegislation in New York, for his strong support of the LGBT community. The keynote speaker will be Michael Boucai, an associate professor at UB and co-adviser to OUTLaw. Boucai has focused his research on sexuality and the law issues. He will use the opportunity to speak as his introduction to the LGBT legal community.
The work OUTLaw does is important because of the unique legal issues the LGBT community faces, according to Anastasia Stumpf, a first-year law student and active member of OUTLaw. She said an attorney and advocate should be knowledgeable about how topics like marriage, adoption and fertility, divorce, health care and employment discrimination pertain specifically to LGBT clients and be aware of the ways laws may affect her clients.
"As a law student, I think it's important to bring about awareness of these issues so that my classmates can serve and advocate for their LGBT clients to the best of their abilities in the future, no matter what type of law they choose to practice," Stumpf said.
Patterson believes OUTLaw is a fantastic group for many reasons.
"For any educational unit, it's important for there to be an active and welcoming LGBTQ organization," she said in an email. "In a law school, our group not only exists to provide a social and professional network for our future LGBTQ attorneys and allies, but it also lends itself to advocacy and public education due to the unique skills inherent in its membership."
DeVoe dreams of working with LGBT rights organizations like Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign. Regardless of whether LGBT rights activism drives his career, he plans to continue to campaign for LGBT rights because doing so enables him to be an activist and work for positive change.
Every little thing adds up in the end, according to DeVoe.