By C. Todd Norris
I attended my first Pride celebration in Minneapolis in 1992 just before starting law school at the University of Minnesota. Then, I thought of it more as an act of defiance than a celebration. I had just come out to my friends from college and my immediate family members in Ohio before moving to Minneapolis to start a new life with the intention that I would not hide my identity from anyone anymore. I marched in the Pride parade that year to be seen and to be counted. The event drew people from all over the Midwest. The City’s official crowd count was approximately 50,000 people, only a tenth the size of what it draws today, but still one of the largest in the nation at the time.
I rushed downstairs the next morning to see how it had been covered by the local paper. After flipping through page after page of large colorful photographs of the Swedish festival that had taken place that weekend (with only a small fraction of the number of people), I finally found it – a one-paragraph description next to a 2”x3” black & white photo captioned, “A drag queen hands out condoms at Pride.” I was furious. Yes, drag queens are absolutely an important part of our community and are in fact often credited with having ignited the LGBTQ+ movement itself, and yes, HIV awareness was even more important to our community in 1992 than perhaps it is today. But that small black & white photo at the very back of the cultural events section of the paper was the single representation the local paper chose to include? To say the least, the paper’s coverage of our enormously colorful and diverse community that had come together that weekend to show not just Minneapolis, but the entire nation that we exist, that we are your family members, your co-workers, your friends and your neighbors was woefully inadequate. I did not feel seen or counted. Continue reading “Something To Be Proud Of”
By Raylene Espitia
This blog post features a Duane Morris staff member in celebration of Pride Month.
Greetings! I come in peace and I am here to share a little bit about me. My name is Raylene (or Ray – your call), and I joined Duane Morris roughly 10 months ago as a Legal Assistant with the Employment, Labor, Benefits and Immigration group in the Chicago office. I came out as bisexual at the age of 21 and was fortunate to be surrounded by supportive friends and family. A few years later, I moved alone from California to Chicago. Every single person I met for the next couple years was brand new to me and of course, knew nothing about me either. During this time, the majority of the people I met had the tendency to assume that I am straight and/or treated me differently when I told them that I identify as bisexual. Having such a significant part of me ignored and misunderstood brought back feelings of isolation, frustration, and loneliness, to name a few. However, this encouraged me to practice self-acceptance more than ever before and to seek ways to help others like me. In January of this year, I found an LGBTQ+ organization to join and it’s been such a joy to be a part of. I am so happy to be around people again who understand me and can make me feel like I belong.
During my time serving the youth with the Center on Halsted, I have seen so many kids and young adults finally find a space where their identities are recognized and accepted. From the very beginning, I was surprised, humbled, and overwhelmed to see the impact that providing a safe space for people had on their wellbeing. I am sharing this because I think it’s important for people to realize that everyone has the power to make an impact on LGBTQ+ lives. Together we can make our community a better place. Continue reading “Better Together”
By Kristopher W. Peters
Grappling with your sexual orientation isn’t really fun, easy, convenient, or conducive to long-term happiness. At least for me it wasn’t. I’d characterize the whole experience as rather anxiety-inducing and stressful. I’m sure many of my LGBTQ counterparts would agree. I tackled coming to terms with being gay by eventually waking up one day and saying enough already, who cares? I was exhausted with grappling with that identity crisis and decided I had enough. But I was lucky; I confronted coming out of the closet from a position of privilege. Many members of our community don’t have that luxury.
After all, I’m a white man, from an economically stable and relatively progressive household. My mother, a native New Yorker, has long-been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights. During the Windsor and Obergefell years, when I think LGBTQ rights really started gaining national attention and public support, she would always rant about it and ask, “what’s the big deal?” So while coming out was incredibly liberating and transformative to me personally, I also didn’t have to grapple with any sort of significant reckoning with key people in my life. A lot of LGBTQ folks, including some close friends, can’t say the same. Continue reading “Pride and Privilege”
By Rachael Cain
Hi everyone! I’m a lesbian and Texas expat, and I joined Duane Morris about three months ago. I’ve worked at a few different firms, and one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is being able to be myself at work. In my personal life, I’ve always been open about my sexuality, but I haven’t always been comfortable being out at work. Especially in Texas, I had to be careful about who I shared my personal life with, and I’ve had to deal with some people who don’t understand or accept LGBTQ people. For example, when I was married to my ex-wife in Texas, I didn’t tell my firm because I felt fairly certain that they would find some excuse to fire me if they knew I was a lesbian.
I came to New York specifically to find the elusive “queer community” and to live in a place that accepted me for who I am. And I have found that! I started two lesbian social groups (hit me up to join my Lesbian Walking Club!), enjoy frequenting a wealth of gay establishments, and have made a ton of queer social connections. However, I still wasn’t connecting my queer personal life in any way to my employment until I joined Duane Morris. When I came on board here, I was delighted to find a huge and active LGBTQ group already existed, and they routinely took on initiatives like pro bono representation, diversity retreats, and happy hours. They actively encourage people to think up new activities and support them in implementation. And not only did Duane Morris Pride immediately embrace me into the group, the firm’s straight counterparts celebrate and support their LGBTQ members. I finally feel like I can be myself at work, and I’ve been motivated to make more queer networking connections, seek out and perform pro bono work helping our community, and start a group specifically for queer lawyers. I’m also learning a lot and I’m excited about the future. Continue reading “Seeking Community”
By Grace Minjeong Sur Smith
I got on my first airplane right before my 백일, 100th day birthday, which is historically a big day in Korea as it marks the survival of a baby in a country that endured brutal colonialism and an equally brutal civil war before catapulting to one of the largest economies in the world overnight. My father was a junior 직원 (loosely means “corporate subordinate”) of a Samsung subsidiary, and they tasked him to boost international sales based out of Los Angeles. Both my parents learned a bit of English in high school and university in Korea but as anyone who has learned a new language knows, speaking it or even trying to understand it amongst native speakers is a whole other ball game. It is not only intimidating but can be deeply isolating and lonely. Thankfully there was a well-established Korean community in and around L.A. and we made the trip to K-town every weekend. My mom found community at the local Korean church while my dad had to entertain clients, even on weekends.
My parents rarely talk about the difficulties they endured in a completely new world with no friends or family as young parents to my three year old sister and newborn me, but my siblings and I have picked up some clues along the way. Particularly from our own moving around as kids. My father’s international assignment ended when I was in the second grade and we moved to Seoul only to move back to L.A. the following year (a story for another time!)—we finally ended up in New Jersey, where you can still see the lone Samsung building in Fort Lee from the highway. Continue reading “What Being Asian American Means to Me”
By Robert Kum
What being Asian or Asian American means to me – When asked this question, people will commonly answer family which is of course not surprising. However, when I use the term, I am not referring to the generic use of the term “family”, but am specifically referring to being a “Kum” (금). Let me explain First, let’s start with my last name. The pronunciation gets butchered quite a lot, either intentionally or unintentionally. Most people pronounce Kum, like it rhymes with Zoom. It is subtle but my last name is more of a hard “K” with a Ummm. As for my first name, my Korean name is actually Chong Seo. My family is old school and so the first part of the name for all males designate the particular generational era they were born, in my case Chong. So my four brothers and I all have this in our names (Chong Guk, Chong Hwa, Chong Myong and Chong Seo). Since we are a patriarchal society, my sister does not get this honor and so she is just plain Nancy.
Next, when most Koreans are asked what specific area they are from, most usually say Seoul. It is after all the largest city in Korea, roughly 17% of the population. Some say Seoul out of convenience because it is the most well-known city (Summer Olympics, etc.). When asked, I proudly say Okcheon. It is a small town approx. 150 km south from Seoul. For generations, my family lived there until my parents made the bold move to come to the U.S. in the 1960’s. When I mean generations, the local archive contains our family tree which extends back over 1,000 years. Being listed in this family book as being born there was so important that I later verified that my father could not bear to list my true birth place (Kingston, Ontario, Canada – That is a story for another day) but am instead listed as being born at the family homestead. I am actually not bothered by the mistake. In another 1,000 years, someone will look at the book and try to unravel the mystery of who I was and wonder about my weird Canadian connection. Continue reading “What Being Asian American Means to Me”
Holly Engelmann, P.C.
A 2022 STAATUS Index survey was conducted of 5,235 Americans across varied racial/ethnic groups, demographic characteristics, and geographies in an effort to better understand how perceptions towards Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPIs) evolve over time. (https://staatus-index.s3.amazonaws.com/2023/STAATUS_Index_2023.pdf). There are a lot of really interesting key findings, but for purposes of this post, I want to briefly focus on visibility and acceptance from my personal perspective.
Visibility. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there were about 24 million Asian residents in the United States in 2021, yet the STAATUS Index study reports that 26% of respondents were unable to name a famous Asian American. The next two most frequent responses after “I don’t know” over the past three years have been Jackie Chan, a 69 year old Hong Kong actor (not Asian American), and Bruce Lee (who died 50 years ago). This finding aligns with my personal experience. Throughout my life I have been told that I look like Kristi Yamaguchi (a 51 year old Japanese American former figure skater famous in the early 90s), Lucy Liu (a 54 year old Chinese American actor), and more recently, Dr. Pimple Popper (a 52 year old Chinese American dermatologist). I don’t look like any of these women, but it’s a reflection of how few famous Asian women (let alone Asian American women) there are for people to draw comparison. I get it – to many people, I look like a 50 year old Asian woman. Jokes aside, I do believe that visibility is important so that Asian Americans aren’t just portrayed in mainstream American culture and media as Kung Fu martial artists or geisha sex workers (see page 33 of the STAATUS Index study). The fact that we have over fifty-five Asian American attorneys at Duane Morris is a great step to being visible and seen as smart, witty, and business-minded people. Continue reading “What Being Asian American Means to Me”
Shireen Y. Wetmore
One of the great things about being Pakistani American is that I was blessed with the richness of growing up with many of my father’s cultural influences. Some of those fit classic stereotypes. For example, I love to bargain. My passion for negotiation – in my father’s culture, both an art form and a sign of respect – serves my clients and my practice as we work together to resolve challenges and find creative solutions. But as I reflect on my cultural upbringing, in a mixed household with parents sharing very different backgrounds and belief systems, I am learning more and more how much I have been influenced by the many ways my father did not fit the mold. We may choose to challenge our culture in different ways, but every way we push is its own sign of respect for the continuity and evolution of these traditions and the ways in which we embrace shared values in changing times. My dad took a chance to come to a new country, and make a new life in America, and I would not be here without that act of both defiance and sacrifice. Nor would I be so fortunate to be a partner in a prestigious law firm without the push and the drive he instilled in me. I can’t think about my Indian and Pakistani heritage without him. And I would not want to think about my practice without the influences of that rich heritage.
By Michael R. Futterman
I don’t know if I am a good ally or if I am making a difference. And I know I still have a lot of work to do. But, I can tell you what I believe being a good ally is – it means being one in all aspects of your life, professionally and personally, all year long, not when it’s convenient and not only in June, during Pride month.
As a management side employment lawyer, it means making sure my clients are aware not only of their legal obligations concerning their LGBTQ+ employees, but also the benefits of having an open and welcoming organization where inclusivity and diversity are promoted. It means ensuring that LGBTQ+ issues are incorporated into employee training and development; that sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are included in anti-discrimination policies; that clients large and small consider diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives, employee resource groups and support networks; and that my clients explore effective ways to recruit, retain and promote LGBTQ+ employees. It means ensuring that employer’s health benefits allow for same-sex and domestic partner coverage; that parental leave policies include equal benefits for parents of any gender; and that dress codes are gender-neutral. It means trying to create a workplace culture for LGBTQ+ employees where they feel safe, welcome and appreciated. Continue reading “What it means to be an LGBTQ+ ally?”
By Edward Cramp
Clients of the Duane Morris law firm deserve the very best legal representation. It does not matter what kind of client they are. We have clients of all shapes and sizes. Some are publicly traded companies with large internal legal departments. Others are family businesses that have served their communities for generations. And, some are pro bono clients who need our advice to do good in the world.
Regardless of who the client is, they deserve the best. Our lawyers and staff can only give their best if they feel supported and accepted at work for who they are and who they love. Only then will they bring their whole self to the profession. Continue reading “Bring Your Whole Self”