FROM THEATER TO MORGAN LEWIS
Emily Walpole grew up in rural North Carolina, where she held several professional theater jobs over the course of a decade, including acting, directing, and carpentry. Over time, Walpole realized that being on stage was less fulfilling than the problem-solving and behind-the-scenes aspect of the profession. She decided it was time to use those skills to pursue her desire of making a difference in her community, especially for transgender people in the United States, by pursuing a career in the law.
Walpole attended the University of Virginia School of Law, during which time her mentor introduced her to the National LGBT Bar Association. It was then that Walpole became a regional chair for the LGBT Bar’s Law Student Congress, as well as national Secretary and eventually national Co-Chair. It was during her time with the LGBT Bar that Walpole spoke heavily on the civil rights issues faced by trans people in America, both at her law school and at the 2019 Lavender Law® Conference and Career Fair. Further, she created a name and gender change clinic at UVA, which she notes as one of her proudest achievements (over the course of her law school career, Walpole helped over 100 individuals she met through the name and gender change clinic). This fall, she will begin working at Morgan Lewis with a focus on employment law. Although she is stepping down from her position as national Co-Chair of the Law Student Congress, Walpole will continue to remain involved with the LGBT Bar. She will be speaking for a second year at the LGBT Bar’s virtual 2020 Lavender Law® Conference and Career Fair.
TRANS (IN)VISIBILITY WITHIN THE LEGAL PROFESSION AND BEYOND
Walpole stresses the issue of trans visibility as a primary problem within the legal sphere. “I think visibility is the biggest problem we have in the legal profession. We need people to know we’re out there.” She hopes to further the movement by increasing trans visibility when she begins working at Morgan Lewis, where she believes she may be the only trans woman working for the firm. Walpole expects to continue her activism, stating, “I fully intend to keep doing the same pro bono work and the same civil rights work I’ve been doing.” While her focus will be on employment law, she hopes to continue using her skills to carry out the same pro bono name and gender marker change work for trans clients that she did during law school.
Beyond the legal profession, Walpole is focused upon LGBTQ+ issues being faced in the real world. While the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace was a large stride in the right direction, there is still much more that remains to be done. Walpole says, “The fact that the Supreme Court recognized that we have the same rights as everybody else in the employment sphere is a huge step, but we just need to keep doing that, [to] keep saying we’re just people who want the same rights.” Walpole believes that while workplace visibility is important, visibility in local communities is also critical to forward progress. Growing up in rural North Carolina with very few LGBTQ+ presenting or identifying people, Walpole especially recognizes the importance of local community visibility. She recalls being only one of five LGBTQ+ people from her elementary school class, all of whom did not identify as LGBTQ+ until many years later – likely, she believes, due to the culture of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment that existed in her community. Growing up, Walpole was explicitly told that homosexuality was “unnatural,” both as an overall community message and even expressly by her biology teacher (who also chose not to teach evolution because she did not believe in it). Impacted by this personal experience, Walpole knows that visibility is more important than ever to change the tide of systemic invisibility that has affected the trans community for so long.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LGBT BAR’S CLIMATE SURVEY
While serving in her official capacity for the LGBT Bar’s Law Student Congress, Walpole was particularly struck by the impact of the LGBT Bar’s Law School Campus Climate Survey. She stresses the importance of this undertaking, and urges law schools to take the survey seriously for the sake of its current and prospective students. “It is a really powerful tool that I think all law schools will eventually be signing on to and all students should be aware exists.” The main goal of the survey, as stated by the LGBT Bar, is to “identify policies and procedures that specifically impact the schools’ LGBTQ+ population.” Walpole’s hope is that LGBTQ+ identifying incoming law students will use this survey in order to find the best fit school for their legal education. However, it is on the shoulders of law schools to fill out the survey in order to best inform these prospective students. Walpole posits, “A lot of law schools haven’t responded to the survey, and some of them I know are not responding to it because they’re not going to like their own answers.” She concludes that while more law schools need to get on board, students across the country should take advantage of this survey and use it to better inform where they should attend law school.
The National LGBT Bar thanks Emily Walpole for her years of service with the Law Student Congress, congratulates her on her law school graduation this past spring, and looks forward to working with her on future projects!