Michael Hamar

Why Is Equality Virginia Promoting an Anti-Gay Law Firm?

Filed By Michael Hamar | May 25, 2011 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: boycott of anti-gay companies, employment discrimination, Equality Virginia, HR Pride, HRBOR, Legends Gala

Given the financial plight of Equality Maryland, one would think other state LGBT advocacy organizations would be getting a blaring reminder as to the need to fundraise locally and not alienate in-state contributors. The later effort would include not promoting anti-gay businesses and organizations (on my personal blog, I generally support boycotts of anti-gay corporations and countries) and demonstrating some degree of accountability to contributors.

The message seems lost on Equality Virginia - or at least some of its administrative staff. One would think that in order to be held out as a resource to the LGBT community by a LGBT rights organization a law firm would need to go through some sort of minimal vetting process.

More than a willingness to accept LGBT dollars ought to be required.

Yet such is apparently not the case with Equality Virginia, which persists in listing the Virginia Beach law firm of Wolcott Rivers Gates as a resource for legal services to the Hampton Roads LGBT community.

Never mind that Wolcott Rivers has no non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Never mind that Wolcott Rivers has, to my knowledge, never given the first dime of financial support to any of the local Hampton Roads LGBT organizations - something I'd know about, given my involvement as a founder and a member of the board of Hampton Roads Business OutReach, the local gay and gay-friendly chamber of commerce; my past membership on the board of directors of Hampton Roads Pride; and my service on EV's Legends committee for five years. Oh, and did I mention that Wolcott Rivers is the law firm that forced me out for being gay?

Almost without exception, the other firms and attorneys listed by EV as Hampton Roads area resources employ openly gay attorneys and/or have demonstrated many times through financial support their acceptance of LGBT individuals and their support for the cause of LGBT legal equality. So why does Wolcott Rivers get undeserved promotion by Equality Virginia? It's a question I have asked both James Parrish, current executive director of EV, and his predecessor, Jon Blair.

To date, all I've received are mealy-mouthed run-around responses. As Equality Virginia is poised to begin asking for money from sponsors for the 2011 Legends Gala, which will occur on Nov. 19, I hope others will ask this question and demand some answers before they hand over their money and/or in-kind support.

In good conscience, I cannot give further financial support to an organization that promotes a law firm that, by its conduct, has demonstrated its utter contempt for LGBT individuals, if not their money. We as a community ought not to be giving our hard-earned dollars to businesses that do not stand with us in the push for full LGBT equality. I hope readers will ask Equality Virginia - and other state-wide organizations - what's wrong with its vetting process and why an anti-gay business is being promoted on its website.

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To just say it is nice to see a non trans identified person such as yourself take a shot at the bow of an Equality organization doesn't seem to do it justice. Equality begins from within its not really that difficult to understand. If they have a live person answering their phone today I'll give them an earful for you.

I noticed on the site that they were promoting a lawyer and not the firm itself. Does that make a difference? Is he a gay lawyer?

To my knowledge he's not gay and through folks I know he has reportedly gay bashed LGBT litigants in court cases where he's represented the straight spouse in divorce cases thereby seeking to play to the homophobia that's all too strong among many of the local judges.

(In my own divorce case - not with this attorney - I was gay bashed and the judge believed that being gay was "a choice").

CG2LegalStrategies | May 28, 2011 2:46 PM

Equality Virginia is submitting this comment to clarify a number of issues raised by Mr. Hamar regarding the inclusion of attorney listings on EV’s website resource pages.

First, as Mr. Hamar knows from personal experience and partly based on earlier concerns raised by him, EV’s lawyer listings were removed from the website almost two years ago, and reposted only after attorneys (not firms) provided written answers to a questionnaire which is available for public review.

Second, and, again, as Mr. Hamar knows from personal experience, the list of attorneys on the EV website is provided solely for the convenience of lawyers interested in having members of the GLBT community as clients and as a convenience to those members of the GLBT community seeking lawyers who have indicated an interest in their business. EV is not engaged, as Mr. Hamar’s suggests in “promoting” any lawyer or firm on the resource page, including his.

All attorneys interested in being included on EV’s resource pages, including Mr. Hamar, have completed a questionnaire that asks about their work with GLBT clients and issues, whether they’ve ever used sexual orientation or gender identity against a client or opposing party in a legal matter, and what areas of legal expertise they have on issues affecting GLBT Virginians and their families. Each lawyer’s questionnaire is linked to his or her listing for information and review by any interested person or is available from EV on request.

Inclusion of an attorney on the resource list does not imply endorsement by Equality Virginia or any warranty of their services. Exclusion from this list does not imply criticism of those not listed.

EV encourages any person seeking a lawyer to interview more than one attorney and to exercise careful and independent judgment in seeking the best lawyer to represent them on a particular matter. EV does not have the resources to engage in an in-depth substantive evaluation of individual lawyers or firms, and cannot, therefore, offer any warranty or recommendation regarding any lawyer on its resource listings, including Mr. Hamar.

I think it's worth noticing that this comment comes from a user with "Legal Strategies" in their username and not from an account/username of Equality Virginia.

I will also point out (without knowing if this is a real hamfisted comment from the group or someone playing stupid internet games) that Equality Virginia has not e-mailed any of the Bilerico editors to seek a clarification or to issue a statement.

A state equality org just leaving a blog comment under a different username that relates to the subject matter they're being criticized about would be highly unusual.

CG2LegalStrategies | May 29, 2011 1:15 PM

Dear Mr. Browning:
My name is Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, and I am general counsel to Equality Virginia. You will find my name listed on EV's webpage (scroll down to the bottom). http://www.equalityvirginia.org/about-ev/board-of-directors

I posted the comment on Mike Hamar's entry on Bilerico using my user name CG2LegalStrategies, which is the name of my law firm. I should have signed it in the body of the note to make it clear that it was an official response to Mr. Hamar's post. We did not choose to engage you as editor, because we thought a simple comment in response to the post was adequate. We posted the same comment on Mr. Hamar's personal blog.

The statement in the post is an official statement from Equality Virginia.

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga
General Counsel, Equality Virginia
CG2 Legal Strategies