Attorney at Law Magazine Dallas publisher PJ Hines sat down with Dallas LGBT Bar Association President Mario Nguyen to discuss the association.
AALM: Is there an interesting story behind the founding of your association?
MN: Even though Lawrence v. Texas was not decided until 2003, Dallas queer attorneys were already meeting in private homes as part of a group called The Stonewall Legal Society in the early 1990s. It wasn’t until January 1992, however, that Lee Taft and Ed Ishmael first floated the idea of a gay and lesbian bar association in Dallas. They started by forming the Gay and Lesbian Study Group. The first meeting at the Belo Mansion had over 20 attendees. In 1999, Rob Wiley organized the study group into the first Dallas Gay and Lesbian Bar Association.
AALM: What is the association’s main focus in the coming year?
MN: Once the pandemic is over, the association will be focused on implementing the 14 objectives in its new strategic plan. These objectives are focused on improving the diversity and inclusion among our members, building organizational infrastructure and sustainability, increasing visibility and service to the general public, and growing our geographic reach throughout the DFW Metroplex, among other things.
AALM: Does the association offer any mentorship opportunities?
MN: Last year, the Dallas Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Bar Association launched its official Mentorship Program thanks to the generous support of JPMorgan Chase, Co. The Mentorship Program pairs practicing attorneys with law students to facilitate connections and shared experiences for our members. We do our best to match our mentee law students with attorney mentors who are practicing in their area of interest. The Mentorship Program runs six months to a year, and is managed by our VP of Professional Development, Kim Austin, and our VP of Programming, Nadia Haghighatian.
AALM: If someone wanted to move into a leadership role, what is your first word of advice?
MN: Leadership requires connecting with those whom you want to lead. People are not pawns. We are all complex individuals with our own complicated lives. The most successful leaders are the ones who take the time to connect with the people they are leading to learn their motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. A good leader then positions each member of their team to excel in their areas of strength, improve in the areas that they are weak, and find fulfillment in whatever goal they set out to achieve.
AALM: Are there any changes in the legal community that the association is involved with?
MN: Despite the association’s existence for over two decades, it was never recognized as a Sister Bar to any local general bar association. Like most marginalized groups, LGBTQ+ professionals have to work doubly hard to compensate for societal misconceptions about us. Until this summer, some even lived a double life for fear of losing their jobs. As a result, it was difficult for the association to maintain sustained leadership and a visible membership. We’ve worked over the past year to be formally recognized by both the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers and the Dallas Bar Association as a Sister Bar.
AALM: Are there any changes that the association wants to see in the legal community?
MN: A 2020 Gallup poll by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found that 4.5% of U.S. adults identify as LGBT. The 2019 National Association for Law Placement Report on Diversity found that only 2.99% of attorneys at law firms identify as LGBT. The association would love to see legal employers not just accept, but actively welcome LGBTQ+ attorneys for jobs, clerkships, and internships. Legal institutions in the South especially need to make the effort to visibly and intentionally seek out LGBTQ+ attorneys because of the South’s history with our community.
AALM: What is the traditional demographic of your members? Young? Solo practitioners?
MN: Because sexual orientation and gender identity transcend race, age, religion, and nationality, our membership comes from all walks of life. Our members are judges, hardworking paralegals, high-stakes litigators, respected transactional attorneys, federal and state government officials, brilliant academics, innovative in-house counsel, passionate nonprofit advocates, and studious law students. Some have been out for decades, and others have only recently discovered their pride. Our community is made up of many shades of life that come together and form a beautiful rainbow.
AALM: In the past year, what CLE events seemed to be most popular?
MN: Since I first joined, the association’s Winter Holiday Party has been one of our most popular events. At a time when a lot of LGBTQ+ people have been rejected by their families and have no place to go for the holidays, the association creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere. There is always comforting food, great conversation, and even better drinks. Last year’s Winter Holiday Party was at the Tower Club and featured a virtual golf simulator, a chocolate fountain, an open bar, and over 100 of the kindest people licensed to practice law by the State of Texas.
AALM: What is the main mission of your association?
MN: The DLGBTBA promotes awareness of issues pertinent to the lives of Gender and Sexual Minority (GSM) citizens, lawyers, legal professionals, and law students; celebrates the diversity and culture of GSMs; advocates for inclusion and equality of all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity; assists in research and further legal scholarship on GSM concerns; educates fellow lawyers on how to be inclusive of GSMs in the community, workplace, and legal academy; provides a safe space for GSM lawyers and allies to meet and form a sense of community; and shows appreciation to allies of the GSM community.
AALM: As a member of the association’s leadership, what changes are you trying to put into effect?
MN: When I first became a lawyer, I questioned how I — a gay attorney of color — could be the next Perry Mason or Atticus Finch? I didn’t see attorneys like me in Dallas’ legal community. Joining the association, however, gave me the opportunity to meet other LGBTQ+ attorneys who worked in Big Law, served as prosecutors, and even started their own law firms. Through them, I saw that I could be a great Dallas lawyer without having to hide who I am. My presidency has focused on institutionalizing the association so that it can offer others what it offered me.
For more information about DLGBTBA, please visit our website at dlgbtba.org.