By Siena Hohne
This month the LGBT Bar is excited to promote the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association in our affiliate spotlight blog series!
The Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association has grown and changed significantly since it was first founded in 1986. The organization was originally called Philadelphia Attorneys for Human Rights (PAHR), an intentionally vague name due to the significant stigma that openly LGBTQ+ lawyers faced at the time. Eventually, PAHR became the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia (GALLOP) in 1992 as LGBTQ+ people became more accepted in the legal profession, and in 2019 members of GALLOP pushed the organization to change its name to the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association to fully include the diverse identities of its members. These name changes reflect the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association’s ongoing commitment to being forward-thinking and encouraging a diverse and inclusive group of LGBTQ+ leaders for tomorrow.
The Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association is a non-profit, non-partisan membership organization dedicated to the advancement of the welfare and full equality of the LGBTQ+ community, promotion of the expertise and advancement of LGBTQ+ legal professionals in the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area, and the education of the larger community on LGBTQ+ legal issues. As an organization, the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association promotes the welfare of society by advocating for the civil and human rights of all persons, regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and national origin. The organization’s Chair, Stephen Kulp, sees his personal mission as ensuring that the organization’s members serve as advocates to effect change in the greater Philadelphia community through their careers as legal professionals. “We have a networking focus and a social focus, but we are also advocates at heart,” says Kulp.
In a year in which LGBTQ+-focused state legislation has exploded across the country, the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association has placed an extra focus on educating its members and the greater Philly community on the potential impacts of LGBTQ+ legislation being considered in the Commonwealth’s statehouse. The organization is particularly focused on abolishing the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense, which is a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder, and is still legal in Pennsylvania. The organization hopes to bring more attention to this issue from people in the Philadelphia community through programming focused specifically on the LGBTQ+ “panic defense” and how to ban it. The Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association is also planning a CLE event with a prominent trans lawmaker about LGBTQ issues at the state level and how states can fill in the gap for legal protections.
The organization is also planning programs focused on mental health in conjunction with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and Judges Concerned for Judges. They have also partnered with Philadelphia FIGHT for an upcoming Virtual Health Equity Speaker Presentation called Educating Advocates: Strengthening Your Advocacy Toolkit to Combat HIV and MAT Discrimination featuring our board member, Jacqueline Romero, USAO. All of the organization’s virtual programs are open to all affinity bars of the National LGBT Bar Association.
The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association to use virtual formats to engage with its members. Recently, the organization launched a CLE series focused on LGBTQ+ law and the Biden administration that will preview state-specific legislation as well as national issues, such as the Fulton v. City of Philadelphia case which will be decided by the Supreme Court very soon.
The pandemic also inspired new ways of fundraising for the organization. As members of the organization began to feel the financial burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, dues revenue for the organization decreased. The organization offered most of its 2020 programming for free to ensure that members were not excluded from programming due to financial hardship. Seeking a new source of funding, Kulp decided to pursue a grassroots fundraising strategy by first reaching out to friends and family and then to local firms and corporations with a dedication to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Kulp stressed to potential donors that the organization is capable of doing amazing things even with small gifts from supporters, such as providing mentorship to young attorneys and law students, working with the LGBT Rights Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association, creating CLE programming, and hosting social events for LGBTQ+ members of the Philadelphia legal community. This experience has challenged Kulp and the organization’s leaders to reconsider charging ticket prices for certain events that could be made available for free, and to raise funds through a more philanthropic approach.
Engaging with local law students is a high priority for the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association. “I see students as the future leadership of our organization,” says Kulp. Each year the organization elects a Student Liaison to its Board of Directors which provides a unique leadership opportunity as well as serve as a voice and platform for students to share their concerns and advocate for issues of interest, such as LGBTQ+ equality in sports. The organization has also partnered with nearby law schools for programming. For example, they developed CLE programming with Drexel University Kline School of Law and supported the work of another student member who organized a recording of the podcast Strict Scrutiny with professors at Rutgers University. The Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association also has a mentorship program that partners experienced attorneys such as Supervising Judge of The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge and President Emeritus of the International Association of LGBTQ+ Judges, Daniel J. Anders with local law students.
One of the organization’s newest initiatives is their social justice committee, which has organized much of the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association’s programming over the past year including the Queer Lives for Black Lives March in Philadelphia, which was planned in conjunction with Philadelphia Family Pride, Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, Philadelphia Black Pride, William Way LGBT Community Center, the Mazzoni Center, the Philadelphia Dyke March, and the Attic Youth Center. The committee is part of a larger initiative to make the organization as a whole more diverse and inclusive, starting with programs and leadership. The organization has also made a commitment to working with other affinity groups in the Philadelphia area to host social events as well as educational and advocacy-based programming. These partnerships allow diverse members of the Philadelphia LGBTQ+ community to be represented and to share their cultures and experiences with an even larger audience. The organization has also rejoined the Diversity in the Profession Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association, which brings together all the affinity Bars in the area to discuss how they can uplift and support each other. As a queer Asian American lawyer, Kulp’s approach to DEI is influenced by his own personal experiences, and he hopes to increase the diversity of leadership within the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association as well as throughout the Philadelphia legal community as a whole.
Congratulations to the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association on a long history of supporting Philly’s LGBTQ+ legal community!