Rand Hoch, a retired judge and equal rights advocate in Palm Beach County, noticed a card on a table he was sitting at during opening presentations at the National LGBT Bar Association’s annual conference, Lavender Law.
“They have the little cards on the table for everybody to make a commitment to make sure that we don’t support any of these law firms that are working in conjunction with groups like the Liberty Counsel and the Alliance [Defending Freedom],” Hoch said.
The nationwide “Committ to Inclusion” campaign targets the two conservative Christian non-profit organizations who wage legal fights against expanding LGBT rights in court. The campaign involves attorneys pledging never to support them through pro bono services, even if the lawsuit has nothing to do with LGBT rights.
“This campaign is a call to action to warn attorneys about anti-LGBT legal groups and their dangerous and strategic efforts to chip away at legal protections for LGBT people,” said D'Arcy Kemnitz, National LGBT Bar Executive Director.
The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, according to the LGBT Bar, has more than 40 attorneys logging up to 1 million pro bono hours. Recently the law firm represented Jack Phillips, a Colorado cake baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple celebrating their marriage at Masterpiece Cakeshop, his business. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had showed hostility toward Phillips based on his religious beliefs so while the ruling was a win for the baker, it left unresolved the broader constitutional questions on religious liberty.
“We are imploring the legal profession to hold back pro bono resources that would help these groups advance their discriminatory agenda,” Kemnitz said in a news release. “When you help anti-LGBT legal groups - even on matters not relating to LGBT issues - you hurt LGBT people. Join us today. COMMIT to INCLUSION.”
Hoch has signed on, as did every person at his table attending the LGBT Bar’s annual educational conference, where the campaign launched.
The existence of legal groups being funded and organized to fight against expanding equal rights for minorities in court cases is not a new phenomenon.
Hoch founded the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, fighting for equal treatment and benefits for LGBT residents, in 1988, one year before the Liberty Counsel launched and a few more before the Alliance Defending Freedom started.
“They started getting politically active because they knew that this was going to have to be fought in the courts,” Hoch said.
“The more people know about these groups, the better it’s going to be because we never know where it’s going to happen next,” adding that living in South Florida means seeing such legal battles more often because the state is one of several which lacks a statewide law protecting LGBT residents from discrimination.
For Hoch, changes in the federal judiciary under the Trump administration have made the LGBT community less certain about several legal issues.
“Do we have a right to exist? Do we have the right to create laws? Does our Constitution protect us, when we are trying to, specifically discrimination, or trying to protect children from the harms of conversion therapy? These are legal issues that we were very comfortable with the answers as recently as a year ago. But now? With the change in the federal judiciary? We’re not sure of anything anymore.”
Visit https://lgbtbar.org/commit/ for more information.