Shame On You, National Bar Association

In 1925, because of Jim Crow segregation, African-American attorneys such as George H. Woodson, S. Joe Brown, James B. Morris, Charles P. Howard, and
Gertrude E. Rush were denied admission to the American Bar Association because of
their race.  So in the spirit of those times, when they were denied a seat at the table, they built their own table.

A group of 120 attorneys included legendary ones such as Charles Houston founded the National Bar Association in Des Moines, IA at a time when there were a little more than 1,000 African-American lawyers in the United States.  

The NBA, working in tandem with the NAACP addressed issues such as professional
ethics, legal education, and uniform state laws, as well as questions concerning
the civil rights movement in transportation discrimination, residential
segregation, and voting rights in addition to working to diversify the federal judiciary and block federal judicial appointments of persons hostile to African-American civil rights and voting rights.

One of the NBA successes in that front was helping block the appointment of
controversial North Carolina
judge John J. Parker by President Herbert Hoover to the U.S. Supreme Court because
of his outspoken opposition to civil rights and voting rights for African-Americans. . 

The ABA began admitting African-American members to its ranks starting in 1943, but the NBA continued growing to become the nation’s oldest and largest association of Black lawyers, judges, law students and educators and has over 10,000 members in 84 chapters around the world in the United States, Canada, .the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and several African nations. 

The NBA constitution states its objective is to “promote legislation that will improve the economic
condition of all American citizens regardless of race, sex, or creed.”

With that kind of progressive vision and history grounded in our African-American civil rights movement, you would think that the National Bar Association would have no problem adding TBLG specific language in its constitution. 

Um yeah, seems like they do.  The Civil Rights Law section of the National Bar Association recently proposed an amendment to the NBA constitution that would add five words to the document: “disability,
sexual orientation or gender identity.” Nothing more. Nothing less.

And what was the result of the NBA vote?   They overwhelmingly rejected the proposed amendment on a 120-30 vote.    

“The National Bar Association’s decision not to include disability,
sexual orientation or gender identity as part of their nondiscrimination
policy fails to accurately reflect the membership it purports to
represent and discourages potential members from joining,” said Kylar Broadus, attorney and founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition.

“For an organization that was formed as a harbor for Black Americans
due to the pervasive discrimination in society at the time and is still a
support for many given the structural and systematic discrimination
that exist, I would think the NBA would be in tune and open to other
Black marginalized groups as well. If we aren’t included in the policy,
it is clear we aren’t welcome.”

“How can an
organization claiming to advocate on behalf of all Americans and
cultivate strong legal leaders, refuse to acknowledge an entire segment
of the Black community and its constituency?” asks Sharon Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition,
a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black LGBT people.
“Black LGBT lawyers and judges are Black, too. Period. We’ve had several
Black LGBT attorneys share with NBJC that they’ve never felt welcomed
at NBA – now we see why.”

Of course the defensive spin quickly came in a written statement from the NBA President John Page when asked to comment by EBONY.com on the organization’s
decision not to include LGBT-specific language in its constitution. 

“For nearly 90 years, the NBA has been a leader in the fight for civil rights and justice for all.”.said National Bar Association President John Page.
“Like most other legal and civil rights organizations, we decided that
our mission statement was not the appropriate document to express our
unquestioned support of specific minority communities but as
professionals and as lawyers we have a clear focus on access, rights,
equality, justice and jurisprudence.”

Oh really?   Then explain why your organization shrank from this leadership test President Page. It’s interesting to note this inclusive language from association of other attorneys such as the American Bar Association:

“The ABA is dedicated to equal employment opportunity for its workforce
that is without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, age,
religion, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation or other
protected characteristics.”

And here’s what the National Black Law Students Association, an active partner group with the NBA that was founded in 1968 has explicitly stated in their bylaws nondiscrimination clause: 

“NBLSA will not discriminate against an individual or group on the basis
of sex, race, religion, ethnic group, age, sexual orientation, gender
identity, disability, national origin, or country of abode.”

Hmm.  Sharon Lettman-Hicks told it like it T-I-S is in the EBONY.com article chronicling the failure of the NBA to include Black LGBT lawyers.

“NBLSA is a
grooming ground for future Black lawyers,” continues Lettman-Hicks.
“These young people are light years ahead of the historic organization,
NBA.”

The National Bar Association states it has a mission to “protect civil and political rights of the
citizens and the residents of the United States.” 

I must point out to you NBA, some of those United States citizens you need to protect the civil and human rights of also happen to be LGBT ones.   It’s past time you dealt with that reality because we can and could definitely use your expertise in doing so right now..

Just as the NBA was founded in the last century to give African-Americans in the legal profession a seat at the table that was denied to them, it’s time for you to pull up some chairs to the table you built and allow your fellow African descended brothers and sister attorneys to not only sit there, but welcome them into the fold.

Shame on you, National Bar Association for sending the message through that problematic vote that has the whiff of homophobia and transphobia that you don’t wish to do so and LGBT attorneys aren’t welcome.. 

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