July 30, 2018 at 4:22 pm PST | by Karen Ocamb
National LGBT Bar Assn asks lawyers to repudiate anti-LGBT law firms

The National LGBT Bar Association is asking attorneys across the United States to repudiate anti-LGBT legal groups as the Trump-Pence administration takes their predilection toward divisiveness to a new level. On Monday, July 30, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a Religious Liberties Task Force alongside anti-LGBT extremists from the ubiquitous anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom, as well as the Colorado baker who refused to serve a gay couple in violation of the state’s nondiscrimination law. The taxpayer-funded task force will be led by Jesse Panuccio, the acting Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice who worked for attorney Chuck Cooper in 2010 defending Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban, during the federal trial that struck down the ban.

“This taxpayer funded task force is yet another example of the Trump-Pence White House and Jeff Sessions sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ people,” said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Over the last 18 months, Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions have engaged in a brazen campaign to erode and limit the rights of LGBTQ people in the name of religion. The Attorney General standing shoulder-to-shoulder this morning with anti-LGBTQ extremists tells you everything you need to know about what today’s announcement was really all about.”

“Under this administration, the federal government is not just reacting—we are actively seeking, carefully, thoughtfully and lawfully, to accommodate people of faith,” Sessions said. “Religious Americans are no longer an afterthought.”

“Religious freedom is important – and, as many of the speakers at today’s Department of Justice event noted – it’s already concretely protected in our Constitution and laws, Jon Davidson, Chief Counsel of Freedom for All Americans Education Fund, told the Los Angeles Blade. “No one is trying to change that. Despite that, today’s DOJ action is just the latest step this administration has taken to undermine the rights of LGBTQ Americans under our nation’s laws. Time and again, Jeff Sessions’ DOJ has seized the opportunity to side in court with those who seek to be permitted to violate those laws and discriminate against LGBTQ Americans. Decades of legal precedent make clear that religious freedom is not a justification for harming others, and that should apply to LGBTQ people as well.”

Davidson is part of a new campaign by the National LGBT Bar Association to reach out to and dissuade their colleagues not to take up cases that defend or advocate for anti-LGBT causes.

“For more than 25 years, groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel have overseen an army of litigators and waged a systematic, insidious, and well-funded crusade to strip protections from LGBT people,” says LGBT Bar Association Executive Director D’Arcy Kemnitz. “With the recent Supreme Court decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the announced retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, and more and more court victories for those seeking a license to discriminate, fair-minded attorneys committed to diversity must push back. If we don’t take these threats seriously and act accordingly, we could face long term legal setbacks for LGBT people.”

The campaign, COMMIT to INCLUSION, includes a fact sheet detailing the history of these anti-LGBT legal groups, their enormous budgets, and a sample list of cases in which they have sought to harm LGBT people. It also includes a one-minute video featuring: Kemnitz; Davidson; and Cathy Sakimura, Family Law Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The COMMIT to INCLUSION campaign pledge reads in part: “We commit to inclusion by ensuring that our personal pro bono and volunteer capacity and personal financial resources will not be used to support the work of ADF and Liberty Counsel.”

“As someone who has been on the other side of the Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel in more than a dozen lawsuits, I can say with certainty that, if a member of the National LGBT Bar Association were to provide their services to the Alliance Defending Freedom or Liberty Counsel, they would be working directly in opposition to the mission of association they have joined. I commend the LGBT Bar for educating the public about these groups’ anti-LGBT activities and urging its members to work to end discrimination against LGBT people through the bar’s Commit to Inclusion campaign,“ Davidson, tells the Los Angeles Blade in an email.

“We strongly support this campaign the same way we’d urge law firms to fight against those legal groups which support discrimination on women’s rights, immigrant rights, and more often than not also support discrimination against LGBTQI people,” Shannon Minter, Legal Director for the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian rights tells the LA Blade.

“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,” says Kemnitz. “We are imploring the legal profession to hold back pro bono resources that would help these groups advance their discriminatory agenda. When you help anti-LGBT legal groups – even on matters not relating to LGBT issues – you hurt LGBT people.”

Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBT extremist group the Family Research Council and close advisor to Vice President Mike Pence, put out a press release both slamming the LGBT Bar Association move and foreshadowing AG Session’s “religious liberties” task force announcement – otherwise construed as a declaration of holy war against LGBT people.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins is among those who participated in a religious freedom conference the State Department held in D.C. this week. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“First, LGBT activists wanted conservatives out of the wedding business. Then came professional sports, the restaurant industry, big tech, teaching, broadcasting, the police force, fire department, local government, the Olympics, military, counseling, adoption and foster care. What’s left? According to one extremist group, the law,” says Perkins.

“The legal profession has already seen its share of bullying from LGBT extremists. In at least four states, judges have been threatened, suspended, or otherwise punished for their marriage views. In two states, they’ve been professionally disciplined. Of course, there’s been an effort to shun lawyers who express any sort of support for natural marriage for years,” Perkins continues.

“The LGBT Bar Association is hoping to persuade people that mainstream organizations like Liberty Counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom are waging ‘a systematic, insidious, and well-funded crusade to strip protections from LGBT people,’” Perkins opines. “In the end, the people who avoid a debate are the ones scared of losing. They scream about freedom when it suits their purpose, only to deny others the freedom to even be heard. Like so many people outside the mainstream, this group’s call for tolerance is just a cover for social tyranny.”

Here’s the video from COMMIT to INCLUSION, which runs from July 24 through September 27. 

Reporting by Karen Ocamb, the staff of the Los Angeles Blade and wire service reports

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