On June 30, 2020, MoFo's LGBTQ+ Affinity Network hosted a webinar discussion with esteemed members of the broader legal community, including Vanguard Group senior counsel and head of IT and security legal Jake Bishop, Scotiabank associate director Cristhian Escobar, and trial attorney and civil rights advocate Ellie Krug. The panel, moderated by MoFo M&A partner Dario de Martino, touched on the importance of effective allyship and the progress of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, including the recent landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming that it is illegal for employers to discriminate because of a person's sex, sexual orientation, or transgender status.
The guest speakers each have a unique and dynamic background, which elevated the discussion. Jake started at Vanguard with a passion for diversity and inclusion and is now the chair of the legal group's Diversity and Inclusion Committee and an active participant in the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group's fellowship program. Ellie spent 30 years as a trial lawyer, representing railroad and trucking companies, and was one of the first attorneys to try jury cases as both a man and a woman. Today, she travels the country speaking and training corporate professionals about human inclusivity and what it means to be transgender. Cristhian, who is Latino, grew up in New York City and was used to being around diverse people most of his life. The issue of diversity didn't become salient for him until he went to a college with predominantly white students and then later entered the professional world.
One particularly poignant moment was when Dario brought up the notion that being out at work leads many LGBTQ+ lawyers to feel they have to "cover" by assuming heteronormative behaviors. When asked what advice he would give to those just starting out in a professional environment, Cristhian responded, "I think our goal should be authenticity, and I think covering has the potential pernicious effect of taking away from authenticity." He added that covering "takes away not just from your own personal dignity, but also takes away from others' ability to grow and to learn and to embrace and to be allies so we can all be authentic together."
They also discussed the importance of allyship and why, in light of the recent events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, allyship is more important than ever. While sharing her thoughts on the topic, Ellie stated that "Allyship is an action, and I think in June of 2020, the concept of allyship is evolving . right before our eyes." She added, "Allyship today encompasses both speaking up and being brave for people who are not in the room and cannot speak up on their own behalf, and/or people who are in the room and are intimidated." Dario agreed, stating, "Today it's become really imperative that the new generation of leaders proactively support people as they endure systemic racism and injustice every day. It's just not enough to say, 'You know I'm colorblind'; we have to be non-racist."
Following those thoughts, Dario asked the panel to discuss their personal experiences with allies or as allies. Jacob noted that, as an ally, "it's more incumbent on me to acknowledge the privilege that I have. I may identify as a gay male, but also as a cis-male and a white male; all these things that have traditionally had power in society. To me, I have to acknowledge that and realize I have a responsibility to be an ally for other people who maybe have not been represented as much in power situations."
The panel ended with the group discussing how they have been celebrating Pride Month this year and everyone admitted that those celebrations looked quite a bit different from what they've been used to in the past. In closing, Dario asked that we "[r]emember that staying silent only allows the status quo to continue," and added that we should "all learn from one another, speak up, call out questionable behavior, and, most importantly, support each other."
Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.
© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved