Giving Back and Speaking Up: Meet the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association

Stephen Kulp, Thomas Ude, Jr., Rebecca Levin Nayak, Gregory Yorgey-Girdy (Philadelphia Gay News collage of photos).

By Victoria Brownworth

The importance and impact of lawyers – like those who work under the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association – are integral to the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ fairness. It has never been more apparent or more critical than it is today.

Over the past decade, monumental legal cases have challenged and changed discriminatory policies and laws affecting LGBTQ people at all levels of society.

Among them were landmark cases of the United States Supreme Court on same-sex marriage – United States v. Windsor in 2013, Obergefell vs. Hodges in 2015, and Bostock v. Clayton county, the fight against discrimination 2020 Case in which the court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964 also protects gay and trans employees from discrimination in employment.

More recently, in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia United States Supreme Court ruled on City of Philadelphia violated First Amendment rights to religious freedom from Catholic Social Services (CSS) when the city asked CSS to agree to certify same-sex couples as foster parents.

In 2021, discrimination, hate crimes, custody issues, divorces, and a plethora of other legal disputes that LGBTQ people face. The pandemic has increased awareness of prejudice against LGBTQ people in healthcare, employment, housing and other places. But where and how do gay and transgender people look for a lawyer if they need a lawyer who understands their case and understands the issues and dangers they face?

The plethora of issues facing LGBTQ people underscores the vital need of a group like the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association.

The history and growth of the group in the 35 years since its inception in 1986 parallels the changes that have taken place throughout the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia. When the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association was founded, it was a group of 25 lawyers. As the Philadelphia Attorneys for Human Rights (PAHR), the group has advocated for the rights of the LGBTQ community in the greater Philadelphia area.

The group chose the ambiguity of this acronym during the height of the AIDS crisis to protect the identity of its members, some of whom refused to receive communications from PAHR for fear of being accidentally exposed.

In 1992, PAHR members changed the name of the organization to Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia (GALLOP) and the group was officially incorporated in 1997. The role of the organization quickly expanded. GALLOP wrote, helped draft or co-signed amicus curiae briefs advocating for equal rights for LGBTQ people, including parental rights and marriage equality throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

In 2002, the National LGBT Bar Association Lavender Law Conference was hosted by GALLOP, and now judge Tiffany Palmer hosted the first ever lavender law career fair for students. This premier career fair attracted 30 employers and around 200 students, but has since become a staple of the Lavender Act which attracts over 175 employers each year.

In 2019, GALLOP changed its name to Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association “to fully include the diverse identities of its members. These name changes reflect the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association’s continued commitment to being forward-thinking and nurturing a diverse and inclusive group of LGBTQ + leaders for the future.

It is now diverse and inclusive. As of 2021, the leadership of the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association is young, progressive, and racially, ethnically and gender diverse, led by millennial gay man of color, Stephen Kulp, who has chaired the organization since January 2021.

The swearing-in ceremony for new LGBTQ lawyers. From left to right: Stephen Kulp, Olivia Hester, Kimberly Kaelin, Alexander Perry, the Hon. Ann M. Butchart, Hon. Idee C. Fox, Hon Abbe F. Fletman, Hon. Daniel J. Anders, Alexandra Sobieski, Nandani Deendyal, Dean Daniel Filler, Gregory O. Yorgey-Girdy (Philadelphia Gay News Photo).

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude to our members and our community for the privilege of chairing the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association,” Kulp told the Philadelphia Gay News.

But, says Kulp, there is hard and hard work, as evidenced by the listing of recent legal battles.

“As lawyers we have a responsibility to be leaders in society, and as LGBTQ + lawyers we have a special responsibility to stand up for the entire LGBTQ + community,” Kulp said.

He added that although membership in the organization is now entirely reserved for the community, it carries its own burden. Kulp said, “This work takes courage, bravery and a little courage. The success of our organization is the merit of the strength we have when we work together with a goal.

This advocacy is evident in the work of the organization’s secretary, Gregory Yorgey-Girdy, who comes from won his judicial run on Election Day, becoming the first openly gay man in history to be elected a judge in Philadelphia City Court.

For Yorgey-Girdy, his role at the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association was part of a journey that culminated in this election. He told PGN: “I am honored to have received the number of votes I got in the primary and general elections, and if you voted for me, thank you again. I owe much of this victory to my husband, my children and a circle of close friends who have supported me.

Still, many would argue that Yorgey-Girdy owes this victory primarily to the work he has done over the years in Philadelphia – work that has helped make the community a safer space to be someone like him: a gay man. black with a husband and children.

Yorgey-Girdy said, “As a member of the Board of Directors and current Secretary, I have had the privilege of helping the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association become a highly respected voice in the legal community. It is an incredible responsibility to help our organization achieve its goals and purpose. “

As the legal and public policy director of the Mazzoni Center, Thomas Ude, Jr., vice president of the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association, deals with the health aspects of LGBTQ discrimination that have impacted the community. since the creation of the APHR at the time. Ude told PGN: “I have been delighted to see the Bar Association continue to grow and develop programs to help lawyers and law students from LGBTQ + communities in Philadelphia connect with each other.

Ude said: “I was delighted to work with Stephen, Becca [Levin Navak, Treasurer] and Greg on the board this year.

Yorgey-Girdy echoed Ude, noting: “Our president, Stephen Kulp, has inspired people to believe in the power our community holds and the limitless potential of our sum.”

Kulp took this diktat very seriously and, with the help of the board of directors, propelled the organization forward. He said, “When my peers elected me to lead this organization, I pledged to advance diversity and inclusion in the profession, to promote and celebrate our members so that everyone is valued and has the same. chances to participate and succeed as LGBTQ + law students, lawyers and judges.

Kulp said his job and that of the organization has also been to create access for growth. He notes: “Our organization has provided our members with free access to various CLE (Continuing Legal Education) programs focused on policy, advocacy, health and wellness and DCI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). over the past year.

Among the things Kulp says the organization has done this year is to create an atmosphere of support by “supporting newly admitted LGBTQ + lawyers in a swearing-in ceremony with the Hon. Idee Fox, President and the Hon. Ann Butchart, Hon. Father Fletman and the Hon. Daniel Anders celebrating these young lawyers from the bench.

Kulp said it’s also essential to educate people about the organization and its myriad of goals. Kulp said: “We have organized town halls to hear candidates for the Municipal Court, the Common Pleas Court and the District Attorney. We are developing new legal avenues for LGBTQ + rights that honor the pioneers who formed our organization in 1986. We have collaborated with other affinity bar associations in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania and expanded our work with national bar associations to ensure that LGBTQ voices have a seat at the table. “

For Yorgey-Girdy, there is still more to accomplish. He notes that “less than a year ago, I was not seriously considering running for public office. But with the encouragement of my family, friends and the grace of God, I decided to launch a campaign.

Now Yorgey-Girdy represents another achievement of the organization by being elected judge. He said, “I look forward to serving all Philadelphians as a judge, and I will keep my campaign pledge to do what I can internally within the First Judicial District to be an agent of change from within. . “

Kulp says: “Our diversity makes our organization unique. We give back to our community through pro bono initiatives that seek to protect those at the intersection of sexuality, race, age and gender.

He adds that it is essential to “ensure that you speak on behalf of minorities within a minority.” All of these are building blocks of advocacy. “

To learn more about the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association, visit: philalgbtqbar.org/.

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