Dale Noll, with Akerman, Miami (Jill Kahn)
In the months since the National Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Bar Association announced that Akerman associate Dale Noll would become the groups’ president, the political winds have shifted in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election.
Noll began his term this month, assuming the helm at a time when the White House has drawn ire from civil rights groups and the LGBT community. But the National LGBT Bar Association is primarily a professional networking group—not an advocacy group. How the political climate ultimately will affect the practice of law and legal professionals remains to be seen.
We talked to Noll, who is based in South Florida, about the role the association will play to ensure that protections for LGBT people remain.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Do you think this is going to be a challenging year for the National LGBT Bar Association?
Although there have been great advances for the LGBT community as a whole, there are still a lot of protections that we don’t have. So we continue to be concerned and we’re taking a look at the current administration and the policies being put in place. We will work with bar association executive director D’Arcy Kemnitz to see what actions, if any, the bar should take. We’re always concerned and there’s a lot of work to do. Just because we have marriage equality doesn’t mean the work is done.
What new issues will the bar association tackle?
The bar is taking a very selective look at what it is taking a position on because we are, first and foremost, a bar organization, so our core mission is to create and foster relationships among legal professionals and then focus on creating opportunities and protections for LGBT professionals and their clients. We are not an advocacy group, but we are keeping an eye on some of the changes in the administration and some of what we see as roll backs in protections. We’re focused on where we fit in with different LGBT organizations. We don’t do advocacy work, but we’re looking at protections and the changes in the Justice Department and the Supreme Court nominations. Our executive director, D’Arcy Kemnitz, works with the board on where to make a statement.
What advocacy has the organization done in the past?
We look at jury access, making sure there is no discrimination in the selection of jury pool members. We look at gay and trans panic defense, which is raised by defendants in criminal procedures, as well as trans military advocacy. We also try to get resources for people submitting amicus briefs to federal or state appellate courts and to supreme courts. We are waiting to learn whether the Eleventh Circuit will accept an amicus brief we signed in a matter regarding people who were perceived to be gay and were therefore not being permitted on a jury. It’s not legal in the U.S. to exclude potential juror members based on their race or gender, but protections haven’t yet been extended to protect potential jurors who are members of LGBT classes. We’re trying to make sure that protection is extended throughout the U.S.
The bar association also offers resources to criminal defense attorneys who might try to use a gay or trans panic defense when representing a client. We want to persuade attorneys that ‘I thought they were hitting on me’ should not be a justification or a defense for assault. It’s not a defense for assault even if a person may have been making advances. We went to the American Bar Association and they passed a resolution in 2013 calling for an end to this particular panic defense. But just because the ABA passed a resolution doesn’t mean it’s being followed. We try to continue our relationship with the ABA and minority bar associations to put these sorts of things in place. We are a resource for our members and keep an eye out for it in any state where it’s still being used, and then reach out to the American Bar and to defense lawyers. We create resources for defense attorneys who have to defend a client in that situation. We have to walk a balancing act to make sure that all alternative defenses are available to their clients, without negatively impacting the LGBT community.
What are your goals for this year?
I want to help increase the membership and create meaningful opportunities for members to connect and expand their professional network. The bar helped me when I was a law student and continues to help me as a member. I just want to see growth for the organization and to allow its members to continue to develop stronger relationships. One of the primary benefits of being in my position is that it allows me to develop a wider network of individuals to rely upon. I have friends and colleagues across the U.S. who I can call on if I need to call on somebody or I need to ask a question about an issue. That’s one of our primary functions.
Do you see the election as having changed the political climate for the LGBT community?
I have always found the South Florida’s legal community to embrace diversity and to embrace the LGBT community. I don’t know that is true in all communities. In South Florida, we’re privileged to live in such a diverse area — I don’t think anything has changed between last year and this.
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