By Heath DeJean
In the summer of 2019, the Houston Bar Association announced the creation of the LGBTQ+ Committee, the first of its kind in Houston, as part of HBA president Benny Agosto’s promotion of diversity and inclusion as cornerstones of the 2019–2020 bar year. Working in cooperation with the Stonewall Law Association of Greater Houston, the LGBTQ+ Committee seeks to improve and enrich the practice of law in Houston and surrounding areas by providing resources and support to LGBTQ+ attorneys, law students, and allies.
The Committee kicked off the bar year with an inaugural happy hour in October to formally introduce the Committee, provide networking opportunities, and discuss the Committee’s plans for the year. More than 100 guests including judges and elected officials were in attendance. Building on its successful happy hour, the Committee hosted an event with students at Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and received significant support from its students to revive the school’s OUTlaw organization that had gone inactive in recent years.
While the initial networking events and happy hours were a success and helped to get the word out, the LGBTQ+ Committee’s goals lie well beyond social events. In the beginning of 2020, the Committee kicked off its Coaching Circles program designed to foster community among LGBTQ+ attorneys and their allies. By forming small groups composed of practitioners with different levels of experience, the program creates a safe space to discuss LGBTQ+-specific issues in a small-group setting. The initial launch was a speed networking event that provided an opportunity for those interested in participating to meet. The attendees also heard from Rosa Maria Villagomez of Mountaintop Consulting, who gave a presentation on personal branding and building an elevator speech. The next step of the Coaching Circles program will be a match event in which participants will have an opportunity to meet their fellow small-group members.
Beyond programming catered to the legal community, the LGBTQ+ Committee also provides opportunities to connect through collaboration with other area LGBTQ+ organizations. An idea three years in the making, on March 11, the Committee, in partnership with the HBA CLE Committee, HBA Gender Fairness Committee, and the Montrose Center, organized a free legal symposium for staff of local LGBTQ+ organizations. During the day-long symposium, top legal minds and activists presented to over 120 attendees in the areas of renter’s rights, employment, hate crimes, and immigration law, as well as other topics of particular importance to the LGBTQ+ community. The symposium also included a presentation from former Houston Mayor and President & CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Annise Parker.
At less than a year old, the HBA LGBTQ+ Committee has already found success in leading positive change in the community. However, this is only the beginning, and the Committee has plans for even more in the future. For more information, or to stay informed on the Committee’s upcoming events and programming, visit hba.org/lgbtq.
About the author: Heath DeJean is a founding member of the HBA LGBTQ+ Committee and serves as a member of the editorial board of The Houston Lawyer. He is a corporate associate at Thompson & Knight LLP.