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“Our progress in degeneracy appears to me pretty rapid. We began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the know-nothings get control, it will read, ‘all men are created equal, except negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’ When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” — Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to James Speed Aug. 24, 1855 SEATTLE — Lately I’ve been thinking about Humpty Dumpty’s interview with Alice, when he says, “Words mean what I say they mean, no more and no less.” That seems to be the approach the legal profession is taking to diversity issues. A few really big firms have taken the issue seriously; more take the check-the-box approach. “We don’t have any diversity issues,” a bar leader announced at a conference a few years ago. “We’ve had a woman president, a minority president and a gay president.” Firms tend to define diversity in terms that allow them to make some women partners, and hire some ethnically diverse associates, then declare victory and wonder why we have to keep talking about this. Lost in the shuffle is the less easily discernable, but growing minority of lesbian and gay attorneys. They are the canary in the mineshaft when it comes to measuring talk about diversity against the action taken to make it real. There’s no denying things look better for gay and lesbian attorneys than they did a decade ago, but that’s like saying things have gone from being appalling to just awful. The National Association for Law Placement Inc. still carries advice to law students on the risks of being “out” to firm interviewers. Its 2001 Directory of Legal Employers found just more than 1,000 openly gay lawyers of nearly 110,000, with openly gay associates out-numbering openly gay partners nearly 2 to 1. Openly gay and lesbian shareholders are still few, much less managing partners. The higher you go in firms, the fewer you find. Court and bar association surveys consistently find an open, even enthusiastic strain of homophobia among significant numbers of lawyers. When Chicago’s Levenfeld Pearlstein decided to create a gay and lesbian practice group, other managing partners called the move too risky. The firm did it anyway. A law firm marketing group gave them an award for apparently being the first in the country to do it and for supporting “an area of diversity and turning it into a marketing success.” Small wonder that gay and lesbian attorneys favor in-house, government or solo/small firm practices. A 2003 study by the MK Level Playing Field Institute found corporate lesbian and gay employees rank the lowest for “fitting in” at work, just behind Muslims. This backstops research on law firm and corporate employment by James Woods in “The Corporate Closet: The Professional Lives of Gay Men in America.” Try to stay in the closet and you get tagged as cold, distant, not quite a team player. Come out, and you get tagged as different, not quite a team player. As a profession, we go around with our fingers crossed behind our backs when we talk about diversity. Too often when firms hire gay and lesbian lawyers, they set them up to fail because the firms haven’t prepared for their presence. They don’t understand them and treat them as oddities. Worried about losing work, partners may screen them from client contact and development. Domestic partners feel out of place at firm events because no one thinks to be more welcoming. When we allow singling out some of our own, in our own hallways and offices, for the kind of discrimination we tell everyone we’ve helped eliminate, we mock our oaths of admission and our high-flown sentiments. Shame. Shame on us all. Lindsay Thompson is a partner at Thompson Gipe in Seattle and is president of the Washington Lesbian & Gay Law Society. He can be reached at [email protected] . This article first appeared inLaw Firm Inc. , aRecorder affiliate based in New York City.

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