Diversity is both seen and unseen
For the past year, I have had the honor of serving as Chair of the ISBA’s Diversity Leadership Council. The Council is comprised of the ISBA’s Standing Committees on Disability Law, Diversity Pipeline, Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and Women and the Law, as well as the ISBA’s Sections for Human Rights, and International and Immigration Law.
As Chair of the Council, I had the privilege of speaking about the ISBA’s diversity initiatives at the officers’ breakfast at the 2011 annual meeting. During my presentation, we discussed the Illinois Law and Leadership Institute, which is a new summer enrichment program for students entering the 9th grade. The program is designed to increase academic aspirations by exposing students to interesting aspects of the law and introducing them to a variety of careers in the legal field. We also discussed the ISBA’s Diversity Leadership Fellows program, which was instituted in 2010 to increase diversity in the membership of ISBA section councils, committees, and other leadership programs, to educate young lawyers about the work, structure and policies of the ISBA, and to ultimately develop a diverse group of future leaders of the organization. And we applauded the proposal to create two additional seats on the ISBA’s Board of Governors to be filled by members reflecting under-represented groups, which was ultimately approved by the Assembly.
At the conclusion of my presentation at the officers’ breakfast, I was approached by a group of attorneys. The attorneys expressed their gratitude that the ISBA valued diversity so much that it made diversity a cornerstone of officers’ training. The attorneys also applauded the ISBA’s vast diversity-related initiatives and the innovative approaches the organization has undertaken to create a more inclusive environment. I was honored to be the “face” of diversity that day for the ISBA.
However, at the conclusion of my conversation with the group of attorneys that day, one attorney asked me “why in the world” the ISBA would choose a white male to chair the Diversity Leadership Council. I paused, and then responded that although I may be a white male, I am also an openly gay white male.
The attorney smiled and wished me well during my term of office. Whether it was an awkward smile of uncomfortability or embarrassment, a smile of relief that the ISBA had in fact selected a member of an under-represented group to serve as Chair of the Council, or some other smile, I will never know. But the moment has stuck with me.
That exchange is a reminder that diversity is both seen and unseen. As we strive to create a more inclusive profession, we need to be mindful that we cannot always see diversity. For instance, we may see a “female” attorney, but we do not know whether the attorney has had gender reassignment surgery. Or we may see a “white” attorney, but we do not know whether the attorney is an African-American born with the recessive trait of albinism. And we may see an attorney who otherwise appears to not be “disabled,” but is subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act because the attorney has HIV, suffers from depression, or is battling cancer.
Diversity is all around us. It encompasses everything from gender to gender identity, from race and ethnicity to skin color and background, from religion and faith to agnosticism and atheism, from known disabilities to unknown disabilities, and from heterosexuals to homosexuals. The list is endless. And that is why we all—in my opinion—are members of the ISBA’s Diversity Leadership Council. The Council may be composed of certain committees and section councils, and you may or may not serve on one of those committees and section councils, but you are furthering the ISBA’s diversity initiatives by just being you. And, in turn, we all are impacted by the Council’s work.
Diversity is that which is seen, and that which is not seen. And so to all my diverse brothers and sisters of the law—and that means all of you—thank you for furthering the ISBA’s diversity initiatives and for the privilege of serving you as Chair of the Diversity Leadership Council for the past year. ■